Hungary migrant crisis escalates as police fire teargas

Migrants climbing over razor wire fence at the border between Hungary and Serbia near Roszke, 180km south-east from Budapest, Hungary, on Aug 26, 2015.
Migrants climbing over razor wire fence at the border between Hungary and Serbia near Roszke, 180km south-east from Budapest, Hungary, on Aug 26, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

RÖSZKE, Hungary (AFP) - Hungary's migrant crisis escalated on Wednesday as police fired teargas at its main processing centre and the government announced it was sending 2,000 "border hunters" to stem the flow of record numbers of people entering from Serbia.

A police spokesman said police used the teargas to disperse around 200 migrants who had refused to be fingerprinted and trying to leave the processing centre at Roszke near the border with non-EU Serbia, along which Hungary is erecting a fence.

The spokesman, Szabolcs Szenti, said "police are trying to calm the situation, but the migrants are continuing to shout." An AFP correspondent at the scene said the situation has since calmed down. Another spokesman said the migrants wanted to leave the centre after news circulated that Germany was easing asylum rules for people fleeing the civil war in Syria.

Police said meanwhile that more than 2,500 people, the highest ever daily total, poured across Hungary's southern border with Serbia near the town of Roszke on Tuesday even though a barbed-wire barrier is nearly complete.

The majority were from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and included more than 500 children.

"We left because we were scared, we had fear, bombs, war, killing, death... That's why we left Syria," one Syrian man heading for the Hungarian border told AFP on Tuesday.

"If I go to Europe, I think it's going to be better... better than my life in Syria." The migrants crossing into Hungary form part of around 7,000 refugees and migrants whose journey to the European Union was blocked last week when Macedonia declared a state of emergency and shut its borders for three days after being overwhelmed by the influx.

As Europe struggles with its worst migrant crisis since World War II, Hungary has become - like Italy and Greece - a "front line" state and many of the hundreds of thousands of people trying to enter the bloc travel up through the western Balkans.

A summit of western Balkans leaders plus German Chancellor Angela Merkel set to be dominated by the crisis takes place on Vienna on Thursday.

So far this year, 140,630 migrants have been intercepted crossing into Hungary, the vast majority over from Serbia. The daily number has leaped from 150 in early 2015 to more than 2,000 this month.

Hungary is attractive to the migrants because unlike other EU members in south-eastern Europe like Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania it is the passport-free Schengen zone, making onwards travel much easier.

Hungary's right-wing government under Prime Minister Viktor Orban is attempting to stem the flow by erected a barrier along its border with Serbia.

A roll of barbed wire along the entire length is due to be completed by Monday, followed by a four-metre-high (13-foot) fence.

On Wednesday Hungary's police chief Karoly Papp said more than 2,000 police would be operational along to Serbian border from September.

The reinforcements, called 'border hunters', will patrol the length of the border, supporting the more than 1,000 regular police already working around the clock to intercept illegal immigrants, Papp said.