Hungary shuts migrant fence as EU fails to reach deal | Inquirer News

Hungary shuts migrant fence as EU fails to reach deal

/ 07:58 AM September 15, 2015
GREECE-EUROPE-MIGRANTS-CAPSIZE

Migrants and refugees wait to cross the Greece-F.Y.R. Macedonia border near the village of Idomeni, in northern Greece on September 13, 2015. Three people, including a child, drowned when a boat carrying some 100 migrants capsized off Greece early on September 13, the Athens News Agency reported. It said the coastguard had rescued 68 people following the incident off the island of Farmakonisi in the Southern Aegean Sea. AFP PHOTO

RÖSZKE, Hungary—Hungary closed the main migrant crossing with Serbia and more states imposed border checks Monday as the failure of EU ministers to agree how to share the burden of a flood of refugees deepened the crisis.

With Europe’s 20-year-old Schengen passport-free zone creaking under the pressure, Austria and Slovakia said they would follow economic powerhouse Germany’s lead in reinstating border controls to deal with the flow of people.

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Poland said it was considering similar steps while the Netherlands said it would have “more patrols” on its frontiers.

Long traffic jams built up on the Germany-Austria border and refugees were left stranded on non-EU Serbia’s side of the frontier with Hungary in the latest chaotic scenes from the biggest such crisis since World War II.

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Yet amid opposition from eastern states, EU ministers failed to reach agreement on a plan to share out 120,000 refugees and ease the burden on frontline states from the tide of people fleeing war zones like Syria and Afghanistan.

“We did not have the agreement we wanted,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said after an emergency meeting in Brussels, adding that they hoped to reach a deal in October.

But the crisis is moving faster than the EU can handle it, with more than 430,000 people having crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, 2,748 dying, and more coming every day.

READ: Migrants break through Hungary police lines on Serbia border

A day before Hungary has vowed to begin arresting illegal migrants, police fenced off a gap in the razor-wire barrier with Serbia that hardline Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government is racing to complete.

At the Roszke border crossing, several dozen migrants including many children, some in pushchairs, were stuck on the Serbian side of the border, with several women crying, after police shut the border, AFP journalists saw.

“We had heard the Hungarians were closing their border, but they told us it would be Tuesday,” cried Hassan, a Syrian in his thirties who is trying to reach Sweden.

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Germany faces million refugees

The migrants were redirected to the official crossing around two kilometers (1.6 miles) away, from where they were being taken on buses to Roszke train station, officials said.

Hungary is on the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis, with almost 200,000 people traveling up from Greece through the western Balkans and entering the country this year, most of them seeking to travel on to economic powerhouse Germany.

But other countries are now feeling the strain too, and Germany shocked its EU partners on Sunday when it admitted that it had to reinstate border controls eliminated under Schengen in the late 1990s to cope with the influx.

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said there were “many signs that Germany this year will take in not 800,000 refugees, as forecast by the interior ministry, but one million.”

The impact was immediate. Barely five minutes after Germany reimposed the controls late Sunday, police halted three young Syrian migrants, asking to see their passports.

“We have been walking through Europe for 22 days,” said 27-year-old Hatem Ali Ahaj, who suffers from asthma and was struggling to catch his breath.

On Monday, a queue of cars snaked one kilometer, with irate drivers including German pensioner Helmut Zimmermann complaining: “It’s like being back in the 1980s.”

READ: Austria says it and Germany will take refugees from Hungary

Austria and Slovakia pounced on the U-turn by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government—which had previously said it would throw open its doors to Syrian refugees—to reinstate their own border checks.

“We will proceed as Germany did,” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said in Brussels.

Poland said it will impose border controls at the first sign of “any threat” while Netherland promised “more” patrols.

EU states can impose temporary controls for security reasons under the Schengen treaty but there are fears the very ideal of a borderless Europe could collapse.

‘Open your heart’

Divisions were also rife over the plan unveiled last week by the European Commission—the EU’s executive—for binding quotas to redistribute 120,000 refugees.

Hopes of a unanimous deal collapsed in the face of opposition from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania at the crisis meeting in Brussels, officials said.

“There was no consensus, several countries disagreed,” Slovak interior minister Robert Kalinak said after the crisis talks, adding it was “crucial” for EU leaders to have a special summit on the issue.

“There was no consensus, several countries disagreed. It was not only us or the Czech Republic, but other countries as well,” he was quoted as saying by the Czech news agency CTK.

However, the EU ministers formally approved a plan first aired in May to relocate 40,000 refugees.

They also approved plans for military action against people smugglers in the Mediterranean, seizing and if necessary destroying boats.

With the human side of the crisis prompting a wave of sympathy, the aunt of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach two weeks ago, traveled to Brussels to lobby the politicians.

“Open your heart and take action and come up with a shared plan,” Teema Kurdi said.

Tragedy struck again off the coast of Greece on Sunday, with 34 more migrants—including four babies and 11 children—drowning when their boat capsized in high winds.

France on Monday announced it would send a frigate to join EU efforts to tackle the people smugglers off the coast of Libya.

“There is a humanitarian obligation to save human lives… there is also an obligation to react against those  seeking to profit from this inhuman situation,” said French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

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TAGS: EU, Europe, Hungary, migrants
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