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Friday 24 November 2017

Refugee crisis: More EU nations tighten border controls

Hungarian police officers guard the border between Serbia and Hungary in Roszke (AP)
Hungarian police officers guard the border between Serbia and Hungary in Roszke (AP)
Refugees waiting in Nickelsdorf on the Austria-Hungary border (AP)
People on their way to a temporary holding centre for migrants at the border between Serbia and Hungary in Roszke, southern Hungary. (AP)

More European Union countries have beefed up border controls as migrants at Hungary's crowded crossings with Austria and Serbia faced fear and uncertainty.

While Hungarian police patrolled their border fence on horseback and workers uncoiled the razor-wire and steel mesh that would finish it, Austria, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Slovakia all rushed to join Germany in tightening controls.

The efforts created significant pressure points as the flow of people fleeing violence at home and trekking through the Balkans showed no sign of abating.

"Hurry up! They're letting us through!" some shouted in Arabic at a checkpoint near Roszke, Hungary, as police blocked a rail line where thousands had entered the country, funnelling the migrants to waiting buses.

Elsewhere, bottlenecks developed at the Austrian border town of Nickelsdorf, where a police spokesman said a main highway had to be closed because up to 10,000 migrants were crossing in from Hungary. Germany's border checks also caused traffic jams on Monday as long as 20 kilometres (12 miles) on roads in Austria.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that the European Union nations have "agreed in principle" on the redistribution of 160,000 refugees from Italy, Greece and Hungary across most other member nations.

He said the tentative agreement at Monday's emergency meeting in Brussels of the 28 EU interior ministers had not fully laid down the quota of refugees the member states had to take in to get to the total. EU ministers had earlier approved a first batch of 32,000 refugees from Italy and Greece.

He said more work should be completed when the ministers meet again on October 8.

Earlier Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency, warned: "If we don't find a solution, then this chaos will be the result. That will become a domino effect and then we can forget Schengen" - the open-border policy generally considered one of the greatest achievements of the EU.

The EU ministers were also making it easier to decide on asylum claims and to detain rejected asylum seekers who refuse to leave the EU voluntarily.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel defended the new checks on the German border, saying they were aimed at producing a more orderly flow of people. He also predicted that Germany alone would see at least one million asylum seekers this year, 200,000 more than a previous assessment, and demanded that other EU nations do more to help.

He called the checks a "clear signal" to our "European partners that Germany, even if we are prepared to provide disproportionate assistance, cannot accommodate all of the refugees alone".

German police said they will conduct rolling checkpoints on major roads coming from Austria but will not check every vehicle and driver for passports.

Hungary, however, was introducing much harsher border controls at midnight - laws that could send smugglers to prison and deport migrants who cut under Hungary's new razor-wire border fence. Hungary's leader was emphatically clear that those moves were designed to keep migrants out.

"You have to defend Hungary and Europe. You have to defend the country's borders while at the same time you have to protect our way of life. You are the defenders of our culture, our way of life and our sovereignty," Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told hundreds of police bound for the Serbian border at a ceremony in Budapest's grand Heroes Square.

The talks in Brussels focused on the objections of at least four Eastern European nations who refused to be forced to take in any more people.

"We will accept the number of refugees that we can afford - not one more, not one less," said Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz.

The arrival of some 500,000 migrants this year - all trekking across Europe's Balkan and eastern nations by train, bus or foot or across the Mediterranean and through Italy - has taken the EU by surprise.

Lacking a quick and comprehensive policy answer, EU nations have begun tightening border security or, in the case of Hungary, erecting fences.

Greece is simply overwhelmed by the numbers of people coming across the sea from Turkey and cannot properly screen the migrants, let alone house them. Scuffles and fights have broken out among migrants on Greece's eastern islands as they desperately seek food, shelter and a route to the mainland.

Press Association

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