Hungary readies fence, emergency measures to stem influx

Reuters , Thursday 10 Sep 2015

Migrants walk along a rail track in the rain from Roszke to Szeged in Hungary, September 10, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Hungary said on Thursday it expected to finish building a fence along its border with Serbia by early October, and indicated it would call a "state of crisis" next week as the right-wing government readies a clampdown on migrants and refugees streaming through the Balkans.

With 3,321 registered entering from Serbia on Wednesday, the highest daily total yet, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff said Hungary planned to introduce "different rules of the game" from next week, with penalties for illegal entry, accelerated asylum procedures and possible expulsion back over the border.

He said the fence, in part being built by prisoners along the 175-km (109-mile) border, would be completed sooner than planned, by the beginning rather than the end of October.

"This 3.5-4-metre tall fence can be adequate to protect the country, especially if policemen are patrolling on the other side," Lazar told a weekly news conference.

He said the government would meet next Tuesday to consider a proposal by the interior ministry to declare a "state of crisis due to mass migration". Such a move would make it easier for authorities to take control of public or municipal property, for example to accommodate asylum seekers.

A week later, parliament is expected to discuss sending the army to the border.


Over 176,000 migrants and refugees, many of them fleeing the Syrian war, have been recorded entering Hungary over the European Union's external border this year en route to the richer and more generous countries of western and northern Europe. Many more may have entered undetected, slipping through the hands of over-stretched border police.

Shrugging off the Cold War echoes of razor wire and watchtowers along an east European border, Orban says the flow of migrants must stop, framing it as a battle for the prosperity and "Christian identity" of Europe.

Hungary has declared Serbia, an impoverished former Yugoslav republic still years away from joining the European Union, to be a safe country for refugees to seek asylum. That gives Budapest the right to turn down any and all asylum requests from people entering across that border.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said this week the designation of Serbia as a so-called 'safe third country' was a "disputed matter" between Hungary and the agency.

Lazar said that under the new rules, authorities would assess an asylum claim within 12 days in a fast-track procedure.

He added that those arriving would receive support under the Geneva Convention and other international treaties, such as food and shelter, until their applications were processed.

Lazar said Hungary planned to expand the capacity of reception centres in the next two weeks. The government plans to set up "transit zones" in the narrow border strip, which the government has earlier compared to airport transit lounges in that migrants held there would not be considered to have actually entered Hungarian territory. Rights groups say this will strand people in a legal limbo. 

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