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Record number of migrants arrive in Hungary

The Columbian
Published: August 24, 2015, 5:00pm
2 Photos
Migrants from Syria take a selfie and flash victory signs from a window of a train that would take them towards Serbia, at the railway station in the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija, on Monday.
Migrants from Syria take a selfie and flash victory signs from a window of a train that would take them towards Serbia, at the railway station in the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija, on Monday. Photo Gallery

BUDAPEST, Hungary — The latest surge of migrants crossing the Balkans has brought a record number to Hungary despite government efforts to quickly build a 4-meter (13-foot) high fence on the Serbian border to stop them.

According to police data, 2,093 migrants were detained Monday, the highest figure so far this year. Over the past week, the daily average was of 1,493 migrants.

The surge comes after nearly 10,000 people, including many women with babies and small children mostly from Syria, rushed across the Macedonian border into Serbia over the weekend. Another 1,000 arrived in Serbia Tuesday morning and their next stop is most likely to be EU-member Hungary.

About 140,000 migrants have reached Hungary this year, over three times as many as in all of 2014. After entering the country, the migrants are detained by police and taken to processing stations where they are registered and then sent by train to refugee centers around the country.

The majority request asylum, but most quickly leave for richer European Union countries like Germany or the Netherlands before their claims are settled.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said Tuesday that the migrant flow needs to be controlled. Besides the fence and the increased police presence, Hungary is also preparing legislation which would make it a crime to cut through the fence or to enter Hungary illegally and would increase penalties for human traffickers.

“It is in the interest of all of us, Hungarians and Europeans, to develop some kind of order or regularity,” Kovacs said in an interview, warning that European cities could face an unsustainable situation if this isn’t done.

So far, the Hungarian border barrier consists of three layers of razor wire, which the government says will be laid along the 174-kilometer (109-mile) border with Serbia by the end of the month. According to Kovacs, the higher fence a few feet behind the razor wire is also being built “as fast as possible.”

“International experience shows that (a fence) can make the number of illegal migrants fall to one-fifth or one-seventh” of the number entering the country with no barriers, Kovacs said.

A leading United Nations expert, however, said building physical barriers to stop migrants was futile.

“Building fences, using tear gas and other forms of violence against migrants and asylum seekers, detention … will not stop migrants from coming or trying to come to Europe,” said Francois Crepau, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. “Let’s not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working. Migration is here to stay.”

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