"I'm not happy. I had to leave Syria — I love Syria, but so much killing there."
That’s from 17-year old Mohammed Al-Hamdan who made it across the Hungarian border with Serbia at a railroad crossing near the village of Roszke before it was closed on Tuesday. As NBC reports, “just before Hungarian police closed the railroad crossing, a Syrian family ran down the tracks trying to make it through, the patriarch screaming to his wife and small children, ‘Yallah, yallah!’ — Arabic for ‘Let's go!’” Before closing the "popular" passage, Hungary had reportedly begun hauling migrants on to trains and shipping them straight to the Austrian border. “The situation is that after crossing the border these people have arrived at the collection point in Roszke, where there is no official procedure, people are just being collected. Earlier these people were being taken to the registration points ... this is not happening now, but rather, buses are taking people from the collection point to the Roszke train station according to our information,” a UNHCR spokesman told Reuters.
Of course even for the migrants who were "lucky" enough to be rounded up and shipped to Austria as opposed to being stranded behind Hungary's new migrant-be-gone fence, their fate is far from certain. As The New York Times noted on Monday, Austrian officials have now sent "2,200 soldiers to help reinforce the eastern border."
The rush to get into the Hungary came as the country largely completed a four meter, razor wire fence meant to cut off the flow of refugees and channel them to official registration centers where they can apply for asylum. “If their applications are refused,” BBC says, “they will now be returned to Serbia rather than being given passage through Hungary.”
Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs says "official and legal ways to come to Hungary and therefore to the European Union remain open.”
“All we ask from all migrants [is] that they should comply with international and European law,” he added.
There’s a certain extent to which Hungary’s frustrations are understandable. For many refugees, the path to the German “promised land” goes through Hungary, and the means the flow of people is daunting.
That said, Kovacs’ comments seem to perhaps overstate the government’s desire to help asylum seekers enter and/or traverse the country legally. New laws that went into effect at midnight now permit police to arrest anyone who attempts to breach the razor wire fence. Damaging the fence is now punishable by imprisonment or deportation and mounted police have been deployed to the border. Here are the images:
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's rhetoric suggests little tolerance for any meaningful demographic shift in Hungary. "Hungary is a country with a 1,000-year-old Christian culture. We Hungarians don't want the global-sized movement of people to change Hungary," Orban said on Monday. He also told border police that “illegal border crossings will no longer be misdemeanors but felonies punishable with prison terms or bans.” Showing his generous side, Orban did say police should treat the migrants like human beings. Additionally, the declaration of a state of emergency is likely to pave the way for the approval of a large military presence and as AP reports, Orban doesn't appear to have waited on Parliament:
Hungary on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in two of its southeastern counties in response to the migration crisis, a move that paves the way to deploy the army to the border with Serbia to stop the flow of migrants that has been entering the country.
Technically, parliament must still approve the deployment of the military. However, Associated Press reporters at the border have already spotted heavily armed military personnel with vehicles and dogs at the border in recent days.
But anyone sent to Serbia faces the terrifying possibility that they will be denied asylum there as well. Here's Reuters:
Serbia, an impoverished ex-Yugoslav republic years away from joining the EU, says it is readying more temporary accommodation, but warned it would not accept anyone turned back from Hungarian territory.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, reiterated on Tuesday that it advised against sending refugees back to Serbia. "Safe third country" status implies refugees have a fair chance of being granted asylum and would receive the necessary protections and support.
Rights groups say Serbia meets none of the criteria and is still finding homes for thousands of its own refugees from the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the last time Europe confronted displacement of people on such a scale.
“That's no longer our responsibility,” Aleksandar Vulin, the minister in charge of policy on migrants, told the Tanjug state news agency. “They are on Hungarian territory and I expect the Hungarian state to behave accordingly towards them.”
So too, apparently, does Germany, where Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel looks to be reaching the end of his patience with some countries' perceived recalcitrance. "Germany can’t be there as the paymaster in Europe and everybody is around when they need money, but no one participates when responsibility must be taken. If this goes on then that’s the end of the current funding basis."
There was no consensus to be found on Tuesday on a plan to use a quota system proposed by Jeane Claude-Juncker last week to settle some 160,000 refugees - for now, only 40,000 will be relocated. Hungary was one of three countries in opposition. Echoing Gabriel, Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere suggested that Berlin may soon be forced to "exert pressure" on countries that refuse to cooperate.
As should be clear from the above, this has the potential to create a very dangerous situation in EU countries who oppose quotas but are pressured by Berline, Paris, and Brussels to comply. Where there are already elements of xenophobia in place, and where those feelings are being amplified and perpetuated by the government, the perception that Germany is forcing an unwanted demographic shift might well serve to fan the flames not only of nationalism but of religious intolerance, especially given the likelihood that those opposed to settling the migrants will be predisposed to stirring up fears of ISIS operatives slipping into Europe disguised as refugees.
And just as we said last week when we documented the construction of the anti-mirgrant fence in Hungary, "it's not clear whether 12 feet of razor wire will be enough to dissuade those who are fleeing from bullets, tanks, barrel bombs, and sword-weilding jihadists, meaning the question really isn't how to keep migrants out, but rather how to handle the situation once migrants get in." On that note, we'll close with the following account from Reuters:
Having spent the night in the open, families with small children sat in fields beneath a new 3.5-metre high fence running almost the length of the EU’s external border with Serbia, halted by a right-wing government that hailed a “new era”.
Others pressed against gates, confused and demanding passage. More still sat on the main highway from Serbia to Hungary. "I will sit here until they open the border. I cannot go back to Syria. Life in Syria is finished," said a Kurd from Syria who gave his name as Bower.