AFP / Elvis Barukcic | Migrants and refugees walk near razor-wire along a 3-metre-high fence at the official border crossing between Serbia and Hungary, near the northern Serbian town of Horgos on September 15, 2015
Aid groups on Tuesday condemned Hungary’s crackdown on migrants attempting to cross into the country through its border with Serbia, warning that its approach could have a damaging knock-on effect across Europe.
Hungary effectively sealed its southern border with Serbia – a key land route for migrants and refugees attempting to reach the EU – by sealing a gap in a razor-wire barrier on Tuesday as well as closing two official border checkpoints.
The country also enacted tough new anti-migrant legislation, including making “illegal border-crossing" a crime punishable by several years in prison.
Hungary has said the measures are necessary to stem the tide of migrants and refugees arriving in the EU nation in recent months. But a number of aid groups and refugee agencies have been alarmed by the increasingly tough approach the country’s right-wing government is taking to tackling the migrant crisis facing Europe.
Aurélie Ponthieu, humanitarian adviser for Doctors Without Borders, warned the move to close the border with Serbia could lead to chaos in other countries, particularly at Greece’s border with Macedonia, if other European states follow Hungary’s example in a “domino effect”.
Macedonian border guards were overwhelmed last month when hundreds of migrants forced their way across from Greece.
Ponthieu said MSF is calling “urgently for safe and legal channels to be created” so that people can cross Europe without putting their lives at risk.
The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, meanwhile, said Hungary’s actions could limit the rights of those seeking asylum.
“We recognise the right of each country to protect its borders with the tools and methods it deems necessary,” UNHCR spokesman Erno Simon said.
However, he added it was “very important” that no barriers are imposed on people fleeing war and persecution.
Speaking to Reuters, Simon said Hungary’s new migrant legislation in particular was “really alarming”.
Hungarian police said they arrested 174 people for breaching the fence on Tuesday, saying they would face criminal prosecution.
Asylum claims rejected
Simon said that migrants who had filed for asylum at the border with Serbia had seen their claims rejected in a matter of hours – a “very small period of time" for such complex cases.
Hungarian authorities said they had processed 16 asylum requests Tuesday, all of which had been rejected.
Amnesty International has said Hungary is "showing the ugly face of Europe's shambolic response" to the migration crisis, while the International Organization for Migration said the crackdown looks like a contravention of Hungary's obligations under UN and EU rules.
But despite international criticism, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of Europe's most vociferous opponents of immigration, has showed no signs of backing down and the country's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Tuesday the country is now also planning to erect a fence along its border with Romania.
“The measure is necessary as people-smugglers may change their routes because of the existing fence on the Hungary-Serbia border, hence a part of the immigration pressure may get directed towards Romania," he said, according to state news agency MTI
Romania criticised the announcement, branding it "out of step with the spirit of Europe".
At least 200,000 migrants have crossed into Hungary so far this year, streaming north through the Balkan peninsula having hit Greek shores by boat or dinghy from Turkey.