Declaring a state of emergency, Hungary sealed off its southern border with Serbia on Tuesday and detained those trying to enter illegally, aiming to shut down the flow of migrants pouring in. Chaos ensued at the border, as hundreds of migrants piled up in a no man’s land, and Serbian officials reacted with outrage.
Stuck for an unknown amount of time on a strip of road between the two countries’ checkpoints, those fleeing violence in their homelands pitched tents and settled in. But frustrations were on the rise. As a police helicopter hovered above, migrants chanted “Open the border!” and shouted insults at Hungarian riot police. Some refused food and water in protest.
With a razor-wire fence completed along the Serbian border, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Hungary now also plans to extend the fence for “a reasonable distance” along its border with Romania.
Both Serbian and Romanian governments decried Hungary’s moves.
“Raising a fence between two EU member states who are strategic partners is not a fair gesture from a political point of view, according to the European spirit,” Romania’s Foreign Ministry said.
The Hungarian government is expected to decide Tuesday to deploy the army to its border with Serbia as a set of harsh new measures meant to stop the huge flow of refugees and other migrants through the country takes effect.
Hungarian officials closed two of seven border crossings with Serbia Tuesday morning. The night before, Hungary deployed a boxcar covered with razor wire to close a key border crossing along a railroad track that had been the main entry point for migrants.
As the country moved to seal off its border with Serbia, large numbers of confused migrants roamed the fields next to the barbed-wire fence that Hungary has recently built separating the two countries. Hungarian officials began distributing food to migrants but refused to let them in, sparking frustration.
“We don’t want food. We want to get into the European Union,” said Abbas Mandegar, from Afghanistan. “We are tired.”
Those who managed to make it into Hungary the day before were boarding buses. One Hungarian police officer said they were being sent directly to Austria.
People had dashed to make it into the country in recent days, hoping to reach Western Europe before it was too late. A record 9,380 migrants entered Hungary on Monday, beating the previous record of 5,809 set just a day earlier.
Some 200,000 migrants have reached Hungary so far in 2015, nearly all by walking across the southern border with Serbia. Almost all, however, simply transit Hungary on their way to Germany or other Western European nations.
Under the new laws, most migrants entering the country from Serbia can be turned away because that country is considered safe and could theoretically provide them asylum.
The new law also makes it a crime to damage the 4-meter (13-foot) razor-wire fence that Hungary has built on the 110-mile (175-kilometer) border with Serbia, giving police the power to detain anyone trying to breach it.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Cabinet will make a decision about whether to declare a state of emergency Tuesday. Orban said in an interview on Hungarian broadcaster TV2 that he people should count on the Cabinet approving the extraordinary measure.
It would allow the government to mobilize the army — pending parliamentary approval next week — to help police with border control, and force courts to prioritize cases involving migrants caught entering Hungary illegally. Police can enter and search homes where migrants who entered Hungary illegally are believed to be hiding.
The state of emergency could be declared for up to six months and extended if conditions continue to justify it.
Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, on Tuesday said he supports the idea of cutting European Union funding to countries that refuse to share the burden of hosting refugees.
Several EU countries, particularly in the former Eastern bloc, have rejected calls from Germany and the EU’s executive Commission for mandatory quotas to spread refugees out among the 28-nation bloc.
De Maiziere told ZDF television that there needs to be discussion of how to exert pressure and that the countries rejecting quotas often receive significant amounts of EU funding.
He said that Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has suggested — “and I find that right” — that “we should talk about (them) getting less money from the structural funds.”