Al Jazeerah: Migrants rush to Hungary before fence goes up

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More than 100,000 asylum-seekers, most of them from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have made the journey along the Balkan route that eventually leads to the European Union via Hungary, and many more are rushing to make the trip before a border fence is erected, the English-language website of Doha-based media network Al Jazeerah reported yesterday. 

“The more tightly controlled a border is, the more dangerous and expensive it becomes to cross,” Al Jazeerah cited Ivana Vukasevic, legal adviser at the Humanitarian Center for Integration and Tolerance in Serbia.

Hungary is seen as the gateway to Western Europe and the weakening of borders in the Balkan states put increasing pressure on Hungary’s border with Serbia, where a temporary, 175-km fence is being built to halt the influx of migrants. The fence-building project, which was initially to be completed sometime in November, has been fast-tracked for completion by August 31 with the help of 500 soldiers and fostered workers. Hungary has also been involved in the strengthening of the border between Serbia and Macedonia.

A payment of $1,000 to a people-smuggler in Turkey guarantees a spot on a boat to Greece and a perilous crossing through Macedonia and Serbia where criminal gangs and dubious police prey on vulnerable migrants, says the news portal.

“With money, any border can be crossed. Those without money, the most vulnerable, will have the most problems,” Vukasevic said. Syrians tend to be the best equipped for the journey says Al Jazeerah, with mobile phones and money to buy train tickets and pay people-smugglers. Migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and African states are less fortunate. Most crossings happen overnight and many originate from the Serbian city Subotica, just south of the Hungarian border where groups form so they do not have to make the dangerous crossing alone, Al Jazeerah adds.

According to the portal, the mayor of the Hungarian border town of Ásotthalom, László Toroczkai, is credited with making the first official request last fall to have a border fence built, and reportedly has close ties with Hungary’s radical right Jobbik party. The mayor also hopes to put forward a proposal to the EU to have camps built closer to war-torn countries to protect the EU from the influx of migrants. 

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