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Hungary Criticized for Border Fence Plan to Stop Refugees

  • Henry Ridgwell

Hungary has announced it is building a fence on its border with Serbia to stem the flow of refugees and migrants. Tens of thousands of migrants have arrived in Hungary – mostly from the Middle East and Africa, via Turkey and the Balkans. Serbia has reacted angrily, comparing the plans to a Nazi concentration camp.

Close to 60,000 irregular migrants have entered Hungary this year – mainly from Serbia. Hungary’s right wing government says it has had enough - and plans to build a 4-meter high fence along the 175-kilometer frontier.

Zoltan Kovacs is a Hungarian government spokesman.

“These are people arriving from different civilizations trying to enter Europe illegally, causing lots of problems, lot of unsolved issues that has been with Western Europe for the past couple of decades. We definitively would like to avoid this happening in Hungary," said Kovacs.

Hungarians living in the border village of Asotthalom welcomed the plans.

Local ranger Zoltan Salinger says citizens are in fear of the influx.

"People are scared to let their children out alone, he said. Everyone is afraid of the migrants despite the fact that there have not been any problems with them," said Salinger.

Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic reacted with anger to Hungary’s announcement.

“We will not build walls,” he said, “I can guarantee that. Serbia will not close itself. We don't want to live in an Auschwitz.”

For a state once under Soviet rule, the building of a border fence is particularly sensitive. Julia Ivan is a lawyer for the non-governmental organization ‘Helsinki Committee Hungary’, which campaigns for migrant rights.

“Twenty six years after the Iron curtain fell and the Berlin Wall fell, it is very sad to see that in Hungary a new Iron Curtain, a new barbed wire fence is being built," said Ivan.

Anna Shea of Amnesty International says Europe should support the refugees.

“I would characterize it as countries trying to avoid taking any responsibility. Refugees don’t want to be refugees, they want to stay home. But when they’re in an unbearable situation they will leave, no matter what," said Shea.

It is likely the migrants will keep coming. Macedonia – on the route to Hungary - voted Thursday to allow migrants a 72-hour grace period to transit through the country on public transport. Previously they had to walk or use bicycles.

Many refugees – like Afghan migrant Nuria - are fleeing conflict.

"In Afghanistan there is Taliban, Daesh [Islamic State] and kidnapping, and timed bomb every day, we are so sad about that, that's why we left Afghanistan," said Nuria.

As the debate sharpens, a battle of billboards is playing out on Hungary’s streets. The government has erected signs with slogans such as ‘If you come to Hungary, you cannot take away Hungarians' jobs.’ They’ve received a mixed response.

The United Nations has countered with billboards of its own – presenting successful refugees such as an Afghan tour guide and a Bangladeshi restaurant owner.

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