Violence flared in Hungary on Wednesday as huge numbers of migrants surged across the border, trying to get into the European Union before the country completes its razor-wire fence.
In the village of Roszke, right on the border with Serbia and close to the town of Szeged, police fired tear gas at some 200 migrants, who became agitated when they were informed they were to have their fingerprints taken. The mainly Syrian and Afghan migrants fear that, as per EU rules, if they are stopped later elsewhere in the EU they will be returned to Hungary as their official point of entry.
“If I get fingerprinted in Hungary, I don’t go to Germany,” explained Abdul Majed, a 25-year-old language student from Syria. “We make fingerprints in Germany, so you will be a refugee in Germany, not in Hungary.”
Exhausted families trudged along the road through Serbia, hoping to get across the border into Europe then continue north into the wealthier parts of the continent – places such as Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands where there is the perception of greater job opportunities.
“It’s been very, very difficult,” said Odei, a Syrian migrant from Deraa, once he reached Hungary. “We were here from yesterday. We are very hungry. There’s no food, there’s no medicine for the children, there’s nothing. We are so tired.”
And they knew they were in a race against time.
Wednesday saw another record day for arrivals, with 2,533 detained – up from 2,093 the previous day. Over 10,000 migrants, including many women with babies and small children, have crossed into Serbia over the past few days and headed toward Hungary – meaning that the records for arrivals will continue to be broken.
The government of Hungary, lead by the Right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has begun construction of a fence along the border with Serbia, in an attempt to stem the flow of arrivals. Mr Orban has ordered that a 11-foot high fence be built along the 110-mile border. It is expected to be completed in the coming days. Water cannons will also be sent to Szeged, the largest city in the region
And, as construction of the fence is finalised, helicopters, police dogs, horses and 2,106 extra border patrol officers have been dispatched to the region.
Karoly Papp, the chief commissioner of Hungarian police, the officers “don’t have and will not get an order to shoot” – but the message was clear.
Zoltan Kovacs, the government spokesman, said parliament would debate next week whether to also employ the army in the border effort.
A Western Balkan summit will be held in Vienna on Thursday, withmigration high on the agenda. The EU on Wednesday released €1.5 million euros (£1.1m) worth of humanitarian aid for refugees in Serbia and Macedonia, on the day that Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, urged countries to show compassion and do “much more” to end the escalating crisis.
“Today there are more people displaced than at any time since World War II,” said Mr Ban, speaking in Paris.
“In Syria and elsewhere, millions of people flee violence and persecution. Others try to escape poverty and seek ways of living with dignity.
“By our intervention, we must save lives, fight against trafficking and discrimination, bring judicial solutions, examine the profound causes of problems and defend human rights.”
And as the number of arrivals in the Balkans increased, the “traditional” routes – into Greece and Italy – also saw large numbers of people washing up.
Greece’s coast guard says it rescued 578 migrants at sea off its eastern Aegean Islands in 15 separate operations near the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos and Kos in the last 24 hours.
That figure did not include those who arrived at the islands without assistance, having set sail from the nearby Turkish coast, usually in inflatable dinghies. Greece has borne the brunt of a record number of migrants heading to Europe, with more than 160,000 entering the country so far this year.
And in Italy, some 50 bodies were found Wednesday in the hull of a smugglers’ boat that was rescued off Libya’s northern coast.