[caption id="attachment_2497730" align="alignleft" width="840"] Hungarian police officers control the border line as a migrant man carrying his child walks by at the Horgos border crossing into the Hungary, near Horgos, Serbia. (Source: AP)[/caption] Hungary sealed off its border with Serbia with massive coils of barbed wire Tuesday and began detaining migrants trying to use the country as a gateway to Western Europe, harsh new measures that left thousands of frustrated asylum-seekers piled up on the Serbian side of the border. READ MORE: Hungary declares emergency, seals border, detains migrants Human rights activists condemned the move, with Amnesty International saying Hungary’s “intimidating show of militarized force is shocking.” But Prime Minister Viktor Orban defended the measures, saying he was acting to preserve Christian Europe, which he said had become threatened by the large numbers of Muslims streaming into the continent.
By nightfall Tuesday, thousands of migrants, including many babies and children, prepared to spend a night in the open or in flimsy tents erected in the bushes or on the main highway near the Serbian border with Hungary. Men collected wood in a nearby forest for fires in preparation for a chilly night. “I had hope until now, but it’s all gone,” lamented Mohammad Mahayni, a 32-year-old Syrian from Damascus, who became separated from his wife as they tried to enter Hungary a day earlier. “I lifted the razor wire for her, she got in before a Hungarian border patrol came by,” he said. “Now I don’t know where she is.”
The new laws make it a crime to breach or damage the 13-foot (4-meter) high razor-wire fence erected along 110 miles of Hungary’s border with Serbia and include longer prison terms for convicted human traffickers. Authorities said they detained 174 people who tried to cross the border Tuesday. Hungary has said it will turn most of the migrants back to Serbia, which it considers a safe country where they could also request asylum. In the above AP photo, migrants play soccer at the closed railway border crossing between Serbia and Hungary, near Horgos.
At the European Parliament in Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker paid tribute Tuesday to Gyula Horn, the late Hungarian prime minister who dismantled that fence. He appeared at the unveiling of a bust of Horn, praising him as “a great Hungarian, a great person, a great European” — a clear gesture of reproach of Orban. Hungary also declared a state of emergency in two southern regions Tuesday, giving authorities greater powers to deal with the crisis and allowing them to shut down roads and speed up asylum court cases. That also allows the military to be deployed to defend the border, pending approval by parliament next week, though heavily armed military personnel with vehicles and dogs have been seen patrolling the border for days. In the above AP photo, a migrant boy pulls tents on the road near the "Horgos 2" border crossing into the Hungary, near Horgos.
The turmoil at the Hungarian-Serbian border came a day after the 28-nation EU failed to come up with a united immigration policy at a contentious meeting in Brussels. The ministers did agree to share responsibility for 40,000 people seeking refuge in overwhelmed Italy and Greece and spoke hopefully of reaching an eventual deal on which EU nations would take 120,000 more refugees, including some from Hungary. The effectiveness of Hungary’s moves was underlined dramatically by statistics: On Monday, with some gaps still open in the border, 9,380 migrants managed to pass into Hungary, a record high as people rushed to get into the European Union before the gates shut behind them. When the measures took effect at midnight, almost nobody got in. Hungary said it received 72 requests for asylum by evening Tuesday but had not approved any.