Iron curtain fears grow as Hungary orders army to use non-lethal force to seal borders against refugees
Published 22/09/2015 | 11:43
Hungary is accused of creating a new ‘iron curtain’ as it grants its military the right to use non-lethal force to prevent refugees crossing its borders.
The country’s parliament authorised the government to deploy the army to help handle a wave of migrants ahead of a meeting of European interior ministers to draw up plans to tackle the largest migration crisis since World War Two.
Hungary, which lies in the path of the largest migration wave, on Monday night passed a law saying the army could use rubber bullets, pyrotechnical devices, tear gas grenades or net guns, according to the text posted on parliament's website.
Read More: Migrant crisis: Scuffles break out between police and refugees in Croatia
Prime Minister Viktor Orban told parliament police were unable to secure all Hungary's frontiers - which include outer borders of the EU's passport-free Schengen zone - without help from the army.
"We can defend the Serbian stretch of the border," he said, adding that fortifications on that 175 km (110 mile)-long section were working better than expected.
Hungary has built a fence on the Serbian border and deployed regular patrols, leading to a drastic drop of migrants crossing it.
Instead, thousands have entered Croatia and Zagreb has waved them on to Hungary again.
Croatia is not a member of Schengen, and the two countries have exchanged bitter words over the handling of the migrants, with Budapest threatening to veto Croatia's Schengen accession and beginning work to fortify its border with Croatia too.
Read More: EU seeks to end refugee squabble as Iron Curtain fears grow
"We can defend the Croatian stretch but to do that we need the army to patrol together with the police," Mr Orban said.
He added Hungary would act on its own until the EU found common ground on how to handle the flow of migrants.
"Europe is rich but weak. That is the most dangerous combination possible. The result ... is catastrophic. Because Europe cannot defend its external borders, internal borders are shut again.
“We need to rethink many European inventions, institutions and treaties. But until we do we cannot sit idle. Until the EU states act as one, member states will be forced to go out of their way to fend off this brutal threat."
Serbia has threatened to retaliate against Croatia after it halted all Serbian cargo traffic coming across their joint border.
More than 30,000 migrants, many of them Syrian refugees, have entered Croatia from Serbia since Hungary barred their entry to the European Union over its southern border with a metal fence.
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Croatia has already closed all but one road border crossing with Serbia and on early Monday halted trucks from entering on the highway between Belgrade and Zagreb, one of Serbia's two main arteries to the west.
The blockage created a 12-km queue of trucks on the Serbian side.
The Croatian government has cited security reasons but local media say Zagreb is trying to put pressure on Belgrade to slow the flow of migrants over their border and send more north to Hungary or east to Romania.
Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic told RTL television late on Monday: "I think it is perfectly clear that what we are seeing is organised transport of migrants directly to Croatia (from Serbia)."
The Serbian government has called an emergency session for Tuesday afternoon to discuss possible counter-measures.
Read More: Eastern bloc to stand firm against EU quotas as Croatia demands Greece detain refugees
"There is no rational, logical explanation for stopping the flow of goods, of cargo traffic, on one of the main arteries," Serbian Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic told Serbian state television.
"Closing that route is inflicting millions in damage to Serbian business and the state every day," he said.
If Croatia does not lift the blockade, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said late on Monday, "due to violations of numerous bilateral and international agreements we will be forced to protect our country by legal means."
"That will hit their country far harder than their measures are hurting ours," he said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged European leaders to ensure refugees and migrants are treated properly as “many of them have endured arduous journeys to flee persecution, conflict and human rights abuses”.