Hungary set to complete first phase of border fence with Serbia

Construction work is drawing to a close on the first phase of the border fence with Serbia, according to the Hungarian government.

ASOTTHALOM, HUNGARY (AUGUST 13, 2015) (REUTERS) – Hungary has said on Friday (August 14) it will finish the first phase of its fence along the Serbian border by the end of this week, stretching along at about 70 kilometres between the countries.

The final 175 kilometre-long fence is to consist of two parallel sections, the first is a 1.5-metre-high barbed wire row, with a four-metre-high mesh wire fence running alongside. Hungary says the fence will deter the increasing migrant flow across its border with Serbia.

Every day, some 1,500 — mostly Afghan and Syrian — refugees stream through the woods from Serbia into Hungary.

Detained by police for registration, then set free and told to report to asylum centres, most make a beeline for the West instead, adding to the European Union’s growing migrant crisis.

The vulnerability of a border-free Europe is exposed at external frontiers like this dense forest where thousands of Middle Eastern migrants, often fleeing violence at home, cross into the EU’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel.

For most of them this is a last-ditch effort to get to Hungary before it completes the border fence and migrants are trapped in non-EU Serbia, expected to become a new bottleneck in the migration wave.

Several migrants manage to cross over even where there is a new line of low barbed wire fence. A group of Pakistani migrants told Reuters they had just jumped through the fence — soon to be met by a police patrol and escorted to the nearest collection point for registration.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said that despite teething problems, the fence project is progressing according to plans.

“The most frequented section of the border that is being finished by the end of this week. So again, in 13 places in different sections the work goes on in parallel. This is a complicated, if you like, technologically diverse form of temporary security perimeter. It is an elementary interest not only Hungary but of the European Union that this closure is being done by the end of the month,” Kovacs said.

The mayor of Asotthalom, leader of the far-right Sixty-Four Counties Youth Movement, voiced concern that there were not enough police force in the area and that the fence in itself will not be enough to deter migrants coming through.

“I think let’s wait and see what the final fence will be but I hope that it will be a little more serious and professional than what we can see now. This fence will have to be guarded too. At the moment the Hungarian police are unable to manage the border defence tasks and there are no border guards, so it will be very important to ensure that the fence is guarded along the borderline,” Torockai said.

Kovacs denied that there was a lack of police force and said that reinforcements have recently been sent to the border. He also said that the fence would indeed be guarded.

“That goes without saying, that the fence itself is not enough. The fence is going to be patrolled, it is going to be guarded like…As you can see like in Bulgaria, Greece or in Spain. We all know that the fence is just one element actually of the necessary measures and definitely it is not going to be the solution to a phenomenon that is well beyond Hungary and the even the European Union,” he said.

Kovacs also said that the government has spent 60 billion Forints (approx. 20 million euros) since last year on the fence and reinforcing policing the border since last year, adding that Hungary feels it has not received enough funds from the EU to tackle the problem and is in the process of requesting funds for its immigration frontline tasks.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government also recently launched a billboard campaign suggesting immigration threatens jobs with slogans like “If you come to Hungary you cannot take away Hungarians’ jobs” or “If you come to Hungary you must respect our culture”.

Kovacs said that the government is preparing to launch an extension to the campaign beyond the country’s borders, this time aimed at migrants who may head to Hungary. The billboards would appear in countries from where migrants have been beginning their journeys, in several languages to deter them from leaving in the first place.

“We are in the phase of preparing a communication campaign, actually, towards a reaching out towards those who are on the route or who would like to reach Europe in the hope of a better future. Again, the message should be very outspoken and very clear-cut like the Germans, Austrians and others in Europe do in those countries that are providing or has been providing migrants coming to those countries, that: ‘Please do not even start because all those information that human traffickers are feeding you are not true’,” Kovacs said.

Orban has raised a furore at home and abroad with tough rhetoric on immigration at a time when his Fidesz party has been haemorrhaging support to the far-right, eurosceptic, anti-foreigner Jobbik party.

Orban linked migration to terrorism in a voter survey on the subject, drawing a condemnation by the United Nations human rights office.