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Hungary criminalizes border violations

September 4, 2015

Lawmakers in Budapest have increased punishments for illegal border crossings as police continue to clash with migrants trying to leave the country. The response to the refugee crisis has divided EU member states.

Ungarn Flüchtlinge in Budapest machen sich zu Fuß Richtung Deutschland auf
Image: picture-alliance/epa/Z. Balogh

Hungarian lawmakers have increased penalties for border violators as part of a package of laws passed Friday. Under the new laws, trespassing in border zones will become a criminal act, smuggling people will be punishable by 20 years in prison and registration centers will be erected at points along the border.

But even as lawmakers passed strict new laws, refugees currently inside the country continued to defy police orders and European leaders criticized Hungary's approach.

The conservative Hungarian leader Viktor Orban has been unapologetic for trying to dissuade migrants from trying to enter the country. Budapest says more than 163,000 have crossed its borders this year.

"We have to make it clear that we can't allow everyone in, because if we allow everyone in, Europe is finished," the prime minister told state radio Friday. "If you are rich and attractive to others, you also have to be strong because if not, they will take away what you have worked for and you will be poor, too."

Europe divided on issue

Orban's defiant stance has angered many European capitals including Berlin and Paris which have appealed for unity in dealing with the crisis.

"Sometimes one must feel shame because of Viktor Orban. He has spoiled much in Hungary, but also much when it comes to values in the European Union," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told German public broadcaster ZDF.

However, the conservative central European leader has found support among neighbors.

The Visegrad group - Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - issued a joint statement following a meeting Friday that stressed the need to defend the EU's borders, as Hungary has done by erecting a razor-wire border fence and deploying soldiers to assist police.

"As an expression of their solidarity, the prime ministers stand ready to provide Hungary with further assistance," the statement said.

Refugees on the march

Hungarian policemen detain a Syrian migrant family after they entered Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, August 28, 2015.
Hungarian policemen detained this Syrian family near the Serbian border on August 28Image: Reuters/B. Szabo

Earlier in the day hundreds of refugees frustrated at being stuck at two train stations in Hungary, set off on foot for Austria on Friday - many of them with the aim of traveling on to Germany. One group formed a line nearly a half-mile long (800 meters) as they streamed out of Budapest, the other broke out of a train near a migrant reception center after overwhelming riot police.

In the capital, hundreds marched through city streets with their belongings in bags and backpacks. The 171-kilometer (106-mile) journey to the Austrian border is a long walk but the group appeared determined, reaching the main motorway by mid-afternoon, 20 kilometers from the train station where they had been denied boarding international trains heading deeper into the EU.

Already at least one life has been lost in connection with the confrontations with Hungarian security forces. A Pakistani man died Friday after collapsing on railway tracks after a group of more than 300 migrants broke out of a train station near Bicske, where police had been holding about 800 migrants.

Police say they did not give chase to the unidentified man and Hungarian state television said he had died after falling and hitting his head on the railway tracks. That group of 300 people was later apprehended.

Staggering numbers

The International Organization for Migration said more than 364,000 migrants have arrived in Europe so far - and more than 2,800 have died along the way, most drowning while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Greece and Italy have been the hardest-hit nations, with more than 245,000 and nearly 117,000 arrivals respectively, the vast majority by boat.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres estimated that Europe would need to make space for about 200,000 additional people trying to reach its shores.

So far, EU member states have fallen short of targets to redistribute 40,000 people. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected next week to propose a revised goal of relocating 120,000 people from Hungary, Greece and Italy.

jar/se (dpa, AP, Reuters)