Europe's migrant crisis

Turkey, Hungary block off deluge

Hungarian border police and military personnel standing next to a fence near the Serbian-Hungary border, stopping migrants from entering.
Hungarian border police and military personnel standing next to a fence near the Serbian-Hungary border, stopping migrants from entering.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Refugees stopped by barricades, some arrested under new laws

EDIRNE, Turkey • Turkish security forces have stopped hundreds of people, mainly Syrians, from marching towards western Turkey's border with Greece in a bid to reach Europe, potentially opening a new front in the growing migrant crisis.

Turkey's gendarmerie, soldiers deployed as police, threw up barricades yesterday near the city of Edirne, around 30km from the Greek border, as hundreds of people thronged the road and others took to surrounding hills in a bid to reach the frontier.

The mainly Syrian refugees said they wanted to reach Greece where they believed conditions would be better than Turkey. "We hear that things are much better in Europe, that everything is free," said Syrian migrant Sherif, 27. "After seeing so many people dying on the sea, we decided to try this route."

Yesterday, at least 22 people drowned when their boat capsized off the Turkish coast.

In another nation barring migrants, Hungary's authorities said yesterday that the police had made the first arrests under harsh new laws coming into force punishing "illegal border-crossing" with prison terms of up to three years.

Mr Gyorgy Bakondi, the Prime Minister's chief adviser told a news conference that 174 people had been caught crossing the border illegally and would face criminal prosecution.

The new laws came into force at midnight on Monday.

The Hungarian authorities also effectively sealed the border with Serbia, blocking off a gap in a razor-wire barrier, as well as two official border crossing points. It is erecting a fence the length of its 175km southern border by next month.

Crowds of migrants built up at the fence yesterday, but faced swift rejection.

Hungary also plans to build a fence to keep migrants out along part of its border with Romania, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said yesterday. Budapest declared a "state of crisis" in two southern border counties yesterday, making it easier to mobilise resources.

The country warned that asylum-seekers entering across its southern border will face automatic expulsion within eight days after it declared its impoverished neighbour "safe" for refugees.

But United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it disputes the designation of Serbia as a "safe third country". Rights groups add that Serbia is still finding homes for thousands of its own refugees.

And the International Organization for Migration said yesterday that the crackdown "looks like" a contravention of Hungary's obligations under United Nations and European Union (EU) rules.

At least 200,000 migrants have entered Hungary so far this year. More than 9,000 entered on Monday, setting a single-day record.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said yesterday that their nations want a special EU summit next week to tackle the crisis.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Turkey, Hungary block off deluge'. Print Edition | Subscribe