EU chides Hungary for violence against refugee masses

Hungarian riot police charging at migrants at the border with Serbia in Roszke, Hungary, on Wednesday. Meanwhile, water cannons were used on more migrants at the Hungarian border near Horgos, Serbia, on the same day.
Hungarian riot police charging at migrants at the border with Serbia in Roszke, Hungary, on Wednesday. Meanwhile, water cannons were used on more migrants at the Hungarian border near Horgos, Serbia, on the same day.PHOTOS: REUTERS, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Hungarian riot police charging at migrants at the border with Serbia in Roszke, Hungary, on Wednesday. Meanwhile, water cannons were used on more migrants at the Hungarian border near Horgos, Serbia, on the same day.
Hungarian riot police charging at migrants at the border with Serbia in Roszke, Hungary, on Wednesday. Meanwhile, water cannons were used on more migrants at the Hungarian border near Horgos, Serbia, on the same day.PHOTOS: REUTERS, EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BUDAPEST • The European Union's migration chief rebuked Hungary yesterday for its tough handling of a flood of refugees as asylum seekers, thwarted by a new Hungarian border fence and repelled by riot police, poured into Croatia, spreading the strain.

In one of the worst bursts of violence that this tense refugee summer has seen, Hungarian riot police responded on Wednesday to rocks, taunts and small fires set by agitated migrants at the border crossing here with water cannons, head-cracking batons, and both tear gas and pepper spray.

The flare-up occurred when a crowd of migrants, desperate to cross the border, broke open one of the gates at the crossing between Serbia and Hungary.

EU commissioner for migration Dimitris Avromopoulos told a joint news conference with Hungary's foreign and interior ministers that most of those arriving in Europe were Syrians "in need of our help".

"There is no wall you would not climb, no sea you would not cross if you are fleeing violence and terror," he declared, saying barriers of the kind Hungary has erected were temporary solutions that only diverted refugees and migrants, increasing tensions.

His comments came as Croatia yesterday said it could not take in any more migrants, with 6,500 arriving in the past 24 hours, amid chaotic scenes of riot police trying to control thousands who have streamed into the European Union country from Serbia.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also expressed "shock" on Wednesday at Hungary's actions, saying people "fleeing war and persecution... must be treated with human dignity".

But Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto hit back at the criticism from the UN and European officials and human rights groups, saying that siding with rioting migrants was encouraging violence.

Hungary said it detained a "terrorist" among 29 migrants held during the clashes.

At least 20 policemen and two children were injured, a Hungarian security official said.

A government spokesman said the man was "in the database of security services".

The arrest of the suspected terrorist came at a time when a Daily Mail Online sting operation published yesterday demonstrated how easy it was to obtain papers proving Syrian nationality, with a reporter purchasing a passport, ID card and driving licence in Turkey for US$2,000 (S$2,800) under the name of a real man who was killed in the conflict.

The forger even boasted to the reporter that Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadis were using similar documents to travel to Europe to start sleeper cells or live under false names free of past crimes.

Even economic migrants from other countries were exploiting the generosity of Europe with the false documents, the operation showed.

The expose comes in the wake of Lebanese Education Minister Elias Bousaab's warning to British Prime Minister David Cameron, during his visit to the country on Monday, that two in every 100 Syrian migrants smuggled into Europe are ISIS fanatics.

But in central Istanbul, hundreds of genuine Syrian and other migrants thronged a small park, hoping for a last chance to reach Europe before poor weather makes their favoured route from Turkey to Greece too dangerous to undertake. They are a part of this year's record wave of more than 300,000 people fleeing war, persecution and poverty, using Greece as a springboard for Europe.

That marks a five-fold rise since last year and their numbers continue to grow, the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) says.

Now, that crossing is becoming treacherous and will soon be altogether impassable as autumn descends and winds pick up and churn the Aegean Sea, normally placid during the summer months.

REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline 'EU chides Hungary for violence against refugee masses'. Print Edition | Subscribe