Hungary’s decision to shut down its border with Serbia spilled over into violence as riot police used tear gas and water-cannons to fight back a group of angry migrants who had been denied entry to Europe.
The clashes came a day after Hungary closed its main border-crossing with Serbia in defiance of condemnation from Brussels, the UN and human rights groups.
After a night spent sleeping rough in fields around Roszke the migrants broke up stones and concrete from the road and began lobbing them at the ranks of riot police, some later breaking through the lines and overwhelming police.
Late on Wednesday it was reported that the Hungarians were deploying Humvee military vehicles mounted with machines guns into the fields around Roszke in a bid to hold the line.
Video of the clashes throughout the day showed migrants pushing open a gate at the border, before retreating. At one point, thick black smoke billowed over the area as the mainly male, young migrants vented their frustration at being denied entry into Hungary.
“We fled wars and violence and did not expect such brutality and inhumane treatment in Europe,” said Amir Hassan, an Iraqi who was soaking wet from the water cannon and trying to wash tear gas from his eyes.
“Shame on you, Hungarians,” he shouted, as police fired volleys of tear gas canisters directly into the crowd estimated at nearly 500 people who chanted in Arabic with fists in the air.
Children were caught up in the chaos, many crying from the effects of the tear gas, which causes respiratory problems as well as eye irritation. Several ambulances arrived at the scene as two helicopters hovered overhead, one from the army and the other from the police.
While human rights groups and UN officials criticised the action, Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto defended the decision to use force to defend the 108-mile border along which Hungary has laid a razor-wire barrier.
He also rejected criticism from German and other European nations who have called for a more “humanitarian approach”, calling instead for other nations, like Greece and Italy, to match Hungary’s determination to defend the EU’s external frontier.
“We should put together a European force …to defend the external border of the EU in Greece,” Mr Szijjarto told the Associated Press, “It is obvious that Greece is not able to do so.”
While clashes continued on the border with Serbia, hundreds of other migrants diverted south to Hungary’s border with Croatia in a bid to continue their journey towards Austria and ultimately Germany, where the bulk of migrants want to settle.
Hundreds of people, some of whom identified themselves as Iraqis, were observed trekking through fields near the official border crossing with Croatia at Sid, 70 miles west of the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
They had arrived by bus from the southern Serbian town of Presevo, having been re-routed late on Tuesday following Hungary’s decision to close its border.
“We heard that Hungary was closed so the police told us we should come this way,” Amadou, 35, from Mauritania in west Africa, told AFP as he walked towards the Croatian frontier – which is still peppered with minefields from the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
It is estimated that up to 50,000 unexploded mines are still scattered along the border, forcing Croatia to send de-mining experts to assist migrants.
The scattering of migrants across the Balkans – more than 500,000 of whom have entered the EU this year alone, of which some 200,000 have passed through Hungary – has caused bitter recriminations in Brussels and among Hungary’s immediate neighbours.
To the east, Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta said Hungary’s move had evoked the continent’s darkest era. “Fences, dogs, cops and guns, this looks like Europe in the 1930s,” he said, “And did we solve the refugee problem with this? No, we didn’t.”
To the west, Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic also criticised Hungary and said his country would accept people “regardless of their religion and the colour of their skin” and help them on their way to Germany and Scandinavia.
Photo: Getty Images
“Barbed wire in Europe in the 21st century is not an answer, it’s a threat,” Mr Milanovic said in address to parliament.
To the north, however, the Hungarian refusal to allow any more migrants to cross found support, as the Slovakian prime minister, warned Europe was at risk from what he called a “migrant onslaught”.
“The EU has found itself under the onslaught of hundreds of thousands of migrants and has ceased to be a safe place,” the left-wing leader told parliament, insisting that “90 percent of these people are economic migrants.”
Despite its criticism of Hungary, Germany itself was forced to re-introduce border controls this week after several of its cities, including Munich, were overwhelmed by the influx that followed Angela Merkel making a public promise to accept at least 800,000 migrants this year.
Photo: Getty Images
Those controls were extended further on Wednesday when Germany re-imposed temporary passport checks on sections of its border with France, in what was seen as yet another blow to the border-free Schengen Agreement.
For its part, France said it would not “hesitate a second” to temporarily re-establish its borders “in the coming days or weeks” as it recently did with Italy, while dispatching 900 more police to patrol the frontier.
With such naked divisions now evident among EU states, Germany and Austria have called on emergency leaders’, summit to try and forge some unity on the crisis – a decision is expected from Donald Tusk, the European Council president on Thursday.