Construction is underway on a new European ‘Iron Curtain’ designed to keep migrants from crossing into EU territory. The barrier is taking the form of a 109 mile long fence along Hungary’s southern border.
Hungary is the most south easterly country to be connected by border to the wider Schengen zone, an area of free movement across the majority of Europe. Although Greece, a popular destination with migrants crossing the Mediterranean, is further to the south, she shares no borders with other Schengen-enlisted countries.
Consequently migrants either landing in Greece or traveling through Turkey to reach Europe must cross through the Balkan countries, typically Serbia, if they want to seek asylum in countries such as France, Germany or the UK. Most reach Serbia via Bulgaria or Macedonia.
The Times has reported that upwards of 54,000 migrants have entered into Hungary this year, mostly from Middle East including Syria, and Africa. The majority of those have indeed traveled through Serbia to get there.
The numbers are such that Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, has agreed to build the fence in light of increasing pressure from the anti-immigration party Jobbik. Work is already underway on the structure, which is 13 ft (4 metres) tall.
Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian prime minister, expressed shock at the building of the fence. “We will discuss this decision with our Hungarian colleagues. Building walls is not the solution,” he said. “Serbia cannot be responsible for the situation created by the migrants, we are just a transit country. Is Serbia responsible for the crisis in Syria?”
But Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto has defended the decision, saying that building the fence broke no international treaty. “Other countries have opted for the same solution,” he said. “There were similar barriers on the Greek-Turkish and Bulgarian-Turkish frontiers, and around Spanish enclaves in Morocco. The EU countries seek a solution, but Hungary cannot afford to wait any longer.”
Serbia’s interior minister Nebojša Stefanović has called on neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria, both EU members, to “make more of an effort” to stop migrants from crossing over into his country.
Meanwhile the UN, which is urging Europe to take in more migrants, has condemned the planned fence, which they say thwarts the human rights of migrants. Kitty McKinsey, the regional spokesman said: “The right to seek asylum is an inalienable human right. So we are concerned that erecting a fence would place too many barriers to this right.”
According to figures released by EU stats body Eurostat today, Hungary received the second largest number of asylum applications of any of the EU member states in the first quarter of this year, with 32,810 people lodging applications. Germany received the most applications, with 73,120 applying to live there.
But in terms of applications per population, Hungary received by far the most – 3,322 per million inhabitants, to Germany’s 905 per million. The UK received 7,335 applications for asylum in the same period, equivalent to 114 per million inhabitants. That represents a ten percent decrease on the last quarter of 2014, when 8,155 applications were lodged in the UK.
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