Hungary Shuts Borders, Refugees Left In Limbo

A migrant child plays at the closed Horgos border crossing into the Hungary, near Horgos, Serbia, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DARKO VOJINOVIC
A migrant child plays at the closed Horgos border crossing into the Hungary, near Horgos, Serbia, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DARKO VOJINOVIC

It has been a rough four and a half years for Syrians and Hungary isn’t set to make it any easier after closing the Serbian border Tuesday at midnight.

“If someone is a refugee, we will ask them whether they have submitted an asylum request in Serbia,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a television station on Monday. “If they had not done so, given that Serbia is a safe country, they will be rejected.”

The United Nation’s Refugee agency UNHCR has criticized the decision by Hungary and said that Serbia doesn’t have the capacity to hold so many refugees. The right wing government led by Orban is ardently anti-immigration. Orban, who is often described as the most fascist leader in the European Union, has said that he wants to maintain Europe’s “Christian values.”

Hungarian authorities erected a razor wire fence to keep refugees and asylum seekers out Tuesday morning and threatened jail for anyone who tried to break through. Sixteen arrests have been made so far — nine Syrians and seven Afghans.

Thousands of refugees have entered Hungary in recent days because it is one of the 26-member Schengen states. Until Tuesday, travel between Schengen states was borderless. Now that Hungary has closed their borders, Syrians and other refugees are more likely to travel through Croatia or, less likely, to go through Romania to reach their destination.

But in Serbia, the government fears further border closures by neighboring countries will leave them with thousands of refugees they are not prepared to assist. Serbia has said they will not accept refugees turned back from Hungary which could potentially leave many of them in limbo.

“That’s no longer our responsibility,” Aleksandar Vulin, a minister who oversees Serbia’s migrant policy, told the Tanjug state news agency. “They are on Hungarian territory and I expect the Hungarian state to behave accordingly towards them.”

Germany announced last month that they would accept 800,000 refugees this year. Recent arrivals set a record though and Germany imposed emergency border controls for the first time in the 26-year history of Schengen policy. Austria quickly followed suit.

Germany has led the charge to resettle refugees by arguing that the EU has a humanitarian obligation but there has been fierce opposition from mostly eastern European states. These anti-immigrant countries say that allowing in refugees will just encourage more to come.

The EU has been unable to find an agreement that would see refugees fairly distributed among the 28 member states. Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has gone as far as to suggest imposing financial penalties on countries who refuse to meet their quota. Some of the countries who refuse to resettle refugees are provided financial aid by the EU.

“I think we must talk about ways of exerting pressure,” he told ZDF television.