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Hungary disperses refugees at border

September 16, 2015

Police at Hungary's Roszke border crossing have fired tear gas and water cannons to scatter asylum seekers wanting to cross over from Serbia. Budapest has closed down its borders to keep new arrivals out.

People in a cloud of gas at the Roszke-Horgos border crossing, on September 16, 2015.
Image: Reuters/M. Djurica

Hundreds of riot police tried to repel migrants attempting to break through a razor-wire fence from Serbia into Hungary on Wednesday. Budapest meanwhile informed Serbia that it had temporarily closed the Roszke-Horgos border crossing for 30 days, Serbia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Roszke-Horgos is one of the main crossings between Serbia and Hungary, a member of the European Union and a signatory of the Schengen agreement, which allows for free movement without border checks. Hungary locked down the border on Tuesday to prevent people from crossing illegally.

"The crowd on the Serbian side became aggressive and threw stones, bottles and sticks at police on the Hungarian side and crossed the barrier at the border," a police statement said. "The police is protecting the border of Hungary and the EU while respecting the law and the principle of proportionality," the statement added. There were also reports of helicopters flying overhead.

However, a United Nations official at the scene, quoted by Reuters news agency, said it did not appear that the refugees had breached the barrier.

Illegal immigrants arrested

Budapest's police officers said they arrested 519 refugees who had tried to cross the border since the government enforced a new law making it a crime to cross from Serbia anywhere other than at legal checkpoints.

Forty-six criminal cases were registered, and a man from Iraq was the first person found to be guilty of breaking the new law. The man was to be expelled from Hungary and would likely be sent back to Serbia.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto denied that Hungary was being callous by closing borders, saying his country was "always in solidarity with the refugees" but that it "cannot accept economic migrants because we cannot bear the burden of that."

Hungary has become the main point of entry into the European Union for people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. More than 200,000 have entered the country this year.

Many migrants are still trapped in Horgos. Several are now trying to get into the EU via Croatia and make their way to Germany or other wealthy countries in Western Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has said Berlin was expecting applications from around 800,000 refugees this year.

mg/msh (Reuters, AP)