Wednesday, September 16, 2015 8:46 am
Hungary’s right-wing government shut the main land route for migrants into the European Union midnight Tuesday, taking matters into its own hands to halt Europe’s influx of refugees.
An emergency effort led by Germany to force EU member states to accept mandatory quotas of refugees collapsed in discord, the Reuters news agency has reported.
Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed for European unity after one of her ministers called for financial penalties against countries that refused to accommodate their share of the migrants, provoking anger in central Europe.
A Czech official described such threats as empty but nonetheless “damaging” while Slovakia said they would bring the “end of the EU”.
Under new rules that took effect from midnight, Hungary said anyone seeking asylum on its southern border with Serbia, the EU’s external frontier, would automatically be turned back, and anyone trying to sneak through would face jail.
At the border, migrants barred from continuing their long journey north towards a new life in Germany chanted as the sun went down, and one held up a banner saying: “Mama Merkel, please help us!”
Families with small children sat in fields beneath the new 3.5-metre- (10-foot-) high fence, topped with razor wire, which blocks entry for migrants to the former communist country.
“Strike. No food. No water. Open this border,” a woman had written on a child’s dress that she held above her head.
Migrants who tried to apply for asylum in a transit zone of metal containers were swiftly turned away. Macruf Suhufi Abdi Omar, a Somali, told Reuters he had been refused asylum barely an hour after he gave his fingerprints.
Hungarian officials said they had denied 16 asylum claims at the frontier within hours and were processing 32 more. Police had arrested 174 people for trying to sneak across the border.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of the continent’s loudest opponents of mass immigration, says he is acting to save Europe’s “Christian values” by blocking the main overland route used by mainly Muslim refugees, who travel through the Balkans and cross his country mainly to reach Germany or Sweden.
Amnesty International accused Hungary of “showing the ugly face of Europe’s shambolic response” to the crisis.
The great migration has led to the unravelling of one of the 28-member EU’s signature achievements, its Schengen system of border-free travel across much of the continent.
Record arrivals forced Berlin to reimpose emergency frontier controls this week, with several neighbours swiftly following suit. Austria, next on the road from Hungary to Germany, said tougher border measures would take effect at midnight.
At the Hungarian border, migrants were close to despair. “I don’t know what I will do,” said 40-year-old Riad from Aleppo in Syria. “I will wait to see. We have lost everything to reach this point.”
“We’re on the street now,” said Mouz, a 22-year-old Syrian, who slept on the Hungarian border. Asked if he might consider another route, he replied: “I don’t know. I’m from Syria. I cannot go back.”
Serbia says it is readying more temporary accommodation but will not accept anyone turned back from Hungary.
“That’s no longer our responsibility,” Aleksandar Vulin, the minister in charge of policy on migrants, told the Tanjug state news agency. “They are on Hungarian territory and I expect the Hungarian state to behave accordingly towards them.”