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18th Jan 2019

Hungarian police clash with refugees on Serb border

  • A Syrian refugee makes a dash for safety after entering Hungary from Serbia through a barbed wire fence, on the border near Roszke on 28 August (Photo: Freedom House)

Hungarian riot police on Wednesday (16 September) forced back hundreds of people seeking refuge at the Serb border after firing tear gas and water cannons.

The moves sparked scenes of chaos after people, many of them Syrian asylum seekers, tried to break through a razor-wire fence separating the two countries.

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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "shocked" at how the refugees and migrants were treated.

"It’s not acceptable", he said.

Amnesty International said that in the panic, Hungarian police had separated at least four children from their parents.

"The families are desperate to be reunited with their children. Not only have they experienced the traumatic journey to the border and the use of force by the police, they have now lost the security of being with their parents," said Tirana Hassan, crisis response director at Amnesty International.

Hungarian officials say 20 police officers were hurt in the clashes.

The violence comes on the back of tough new laws passed by Budapest earlier in the week after it sealed off its border with Serbia and declared a state of emergency. A record 9,300 people attempted to cross the border on Monday.

Hungarian authorities are rejecting within minutes asylum requests made at the Serb border. Refugees wanting to enter must now knock on a small door in the fence and ask for asylum, but are being told to apply in Serbia instead.

Serbia's prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, described the Hungarian police crackdown as "brutal" and "non-European" and said the European Union must respond.

"We will not allow anyone to humiliate us. I call on the European Union to react, for its members to behave in line with European values", he said.

Hungary is now expanding its border fence to the Croatian and Romanian borders.

Christian identity

Some 340,000 people have landed in Greece since the start of the year. Many cross over into Macedonia, Serbia and onto Hungary and Austria in an effort to reach Germany.

On Wednesday, the Austrian rail operator OEBB suspended train services between Salzburg and Germany, stranding hundreds of asylum seekers at the train station. They have since set off on foot to Germany.

The vast majority taking the Western Balkan route is fleeing persecution and war from places like Syria and Afghanistan.

The Hungarian border closure means some are now opting to enter in through Croatia.

Croat prime minister Zoran Milanovic said on Wednesday that 150 have already crossed.

Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban told German daily Die Welt that the large influx of Muslims risks usurping Christian identity.

"I prefer to call it a competition between cultures. It is obvious that Christians are going to lose this contest, if you allow many Muslims into Europe", he said.

Orban has been a vocal critic of EU-level plans to distribute asylum seekers to other member states.

He says the scheme to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers would encourage others to make the journey to Europe.

But he told the paper that should the law pass, he would be obliged to follow and accept it.

The European parliament, for its part, is holding an emergency plenary session on Thursday (17 September) to endorse the plan.

"The current refugee crisis makes it absolutely necessary to act swiftly", said parliament president Martin Schulz.

Refugee crisis prompts snap EU summit

EU leaders are to hold emergency talks next Wednesday, amid EU border crackdowns and disagreements on how to share 120,000 refugees.

Eight EU states take migrants stranded on NGO boats

France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania have agreed to relocate the 49 migrants stuck on two NGO boats moored, for almost three weeks, off Malta's coast.

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