Hungary to seal border with Croatia over migrant crisis
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Hungary will seal off its border with Croatia from midnight on Friday to stem the flow of thousands of migrants arriving daily, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announced after a meeting of the national security cabinet.
"The National Security Cabinet has decided that from tomorrow Saturday... Hungary should be able to fulfill its Schengen commitments on the Hungarian-Croatian border, in other words we will close the green border from midnight," Szijjarto said.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government has pledged to protect Hungarian borders and the European Union’s external frontiers from the influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants who, fleeing war or poverty, have come via the Balkans, many with the hopes of reaching Germany.
Hungary has built a steel fence to cut off the migrants’ route over its southern border with Croatia ahead of its closure on Friday. Just last month, the country constructed a similar barrier along its frontier with Serbia.
Hungarian Justice Minister Lazlo Trocsanyi defended his country’s recent clampdown on migrants in an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24.
“We built a wall. And anyone who goes around the wall, who destroys the wall, that signifies that sanctions are possible,” he said.
Once Hungary’s border with Croatia is sealed, migrants will be forced to turn towards neighbouring Slovenia if they want to enter Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, or could be left stranded in Croatia, where the weather is getting colder and authorities are already struggling with the mass influx.
Around 5,000 to 8,000 migrants crossed the Croatian border each day in recent weeks and were shipped in an organised way by police to the Austrian border. This will all come to a halt now.
Szijjarto said the EU leaders’ meeting in Brussels failed to decide on a common force to protect Greece’s borders. It was clear that Hungary had to protect the external frontiers of the Schengen zone.
He said Hungary had informed Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany about the decision to seal the border.
A Croatian government spokesman later said the country has agreed to a plan with Slovenia to manage the flow of migrants that will come into effect as soon as Hungary closes its border.
Szijjarto added that migrants would be able to submit asylum requests at two transit zones to be set up on the border with Croatia, and crossing will only be possible via official border stations.
‘The last refugees’
The number of migrants quickly came to a trickle on the Serbian border where Hungary has also created so-called transit zones where migrants can submit an asylum request.
Most such requests are rejected, because Hungary considers Serbia a safe country. It has also clamped down on illegal crossings of the border fence, punishing migrants with expulsion in court.
“You know the Schengen rules. You know the rules of the 1951 Refugee Convention in Geneva. They give us the right to sanction those who enter the country illegally. And we’ve said that it’s possible to enter legally,” Justice Minister Trocsanyi told FRANCE 24.
Early on Friday, the flow of migrants via the Croatian border was still unabated. About 1,500-2,000 people arrived at the Croatian side of the border crossing at Botovo before midday in cool and foggy weather.
Looking fatigued but determined, they quickly got off and aided by a police escort began a speedy walk to the Hungarian border village of Zakany.
“Last station in Croatia,” a policewoman screamed at those getting off, in English. “You got a 10-minute walk to another train in Hungary. This way!”
The footpath that leads to the border had been worn muddy as autumn rains soaked the ground.
Less than two hours after the train rolled into Botovo, the migrants had been escorted across to Hungary, loaded onto a waiting Hungarian train of about the same size as the Croatian one that had brought them, and set off towards Austria again.
“We are the last refugees,” said Khodarsus, a 35-year-old teacher and a father of a six-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)