Hundreds of migrants stranded in Serbia set off on foot from Belgrade toward the border with Hungary on Tuesday to protest its closure for most people trying to reach the European Union.
Earlier in the Serbian capital, police intervened after the protesters clashed with other groups of migrants who opposed the march. There were no reported injuries during the scuffles.
More than 6,000 migrants remain stuck in Serbia following Hungary’s introduction this summer strict limits on the number of asylum seekers allowed to cross into the EU-member country and reinforced a razor-wire border fence with heavy patrols.
The so-called Balkan migrant route, used by nearly 1 million people fleeing wars and poverty last year, formally closed in March, forcing migrants to use alternative routes and pay smugglers to get them across.
On Tuesday, some 400 migrants chanted “Open Hungary Borders” and held banners saying “we don’t need food, water or nothing, we want you to open the borders” as they marched north in a long column from Belgrade along a road leading toward the Hungarian border some 200 kilometers (120 miles) away.
Most migrants appeared to be young men and boys who stand little chance of getting into Hungary or other EU nations.
Hankrim from Afghanistan, who gave only his first name, said he has been on the road for six months, sleeping on roads and parks.
“Excuse me please, Hungarian government, please Hungary, open the border,” he said.
Serbia said Tuesday it would not erect a wire border fence, but would deploy its army to seal off the borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria to stop migrants from coming in from those countries.
“We will block the migrants the same way as the countries which did not erect the border fence,” Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said.
Hungary has refused to accept any of the migrants that the EU is trying to relocate from Italy and Greece and on Sunday voters there overwhelmingly rejected any future mandatory quotas for accepting asylum seekers. The referendum was rendered invalid because of low turnout.
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Meanwhile, Romanian border police said they were investigating 16 Iraqi citizens, including six children, they found in two boats on the River Danube early Tuesday. The Danube forms the border between southern Romania and Bulgaria.
The migrants told police they had traveled through Turkey and then into Bulgaria and wanted to reach Germany. They said each family had paid 35,000 euros ($39,000).
Romania and Bulgarian authorities are investigating the group of eight men, two women and six children for illegally crossing the Romanian border. They will be handed over to Bulgarian authorities under the terms of a Romanian-Bulgarian agreement.