European refugee crisis: Croatia foils Orbán’s plan to keep refugees out

September 23, 2015

Hegyeshalom, 2015. szeptember 21. Illegális bevándorlók érkeznek a hegyeshalmi vasútállomásra 2015. szeptember 21-én. MTI Fotó: Krizsán Csaba
Asylum seekers in Hegyeshalom boarding trains for the Austrian border in  Photo: Csaba Krizsán / MTI

Viktor Orban’s plan to keep asylum seekers out of Hungary and, by extension, out of Europe through a combination of draconian legislation, physical obstacles and blunt force failed spectacularly within days of Hungarian police clashing with asylum seekers at Röszke.  Between Friday and Tuesday some 32,000 asylum seekers entered Hungary from Croatia after being bused to the border by Croatian authorities.

Tear gas used by Hungarian police on refugees at Röszke on Wednesday had barely dissipated when Serbian buses started transporting asylum seekers to the Croatian border some 150 km west.  From there asylum seekers bound for Germany and Scandinavia could cross the border into Croatia where they could find trains and buses to take them to Zagreb and onto Austria and Germany via Slovenia. Or so they were told by Serbian officials eager to be bid of them.

Alarmed by the prospect of tens of thousands of asylum seekers crossing their borders, within days both Croatia and Slovenia had closed their borders to them, leaving those stranded in western Croatia and northern Serbia little choice but to try to cross into Hungary or Slovenia on foot wherever they could.

Learning that Slovenia had closed its border to asylum seekers, thousands of refugees in western Croatia headed north to Croatia’s green border with Hungary, which they then crossed without incident.

Overwhelmed by the sudden arrival of tens of thousands of refugees, Croatian authorities started busing them to the Hungarian border, where they were transported by bus or train to temporary registration points near the Austrian border.

Meanwhile, a Szeged court ordered the deportation of a number of asylum seekers for illegally entering Hungary after September 15th, when laws making it a crime to tamper with or crawl over or under a border fence came into force.

Friday

On Friday Croatia closed seven out of eight border crossings with Serbia.  Only the main crossing on the highway connecting Belgrade and Zagreb remained open. Meanwhile, Serbia authorities stopped directing refugees in the direction of Zagreb, and instead pointed them in the direction of Pélmonostor, a small town near the Hungarian border.

A number of refugees reportedly did not go in that direction but rather travelled south by taxi to Osijek, where they borded buses to Zagreb.

At a press conference held in Szeged on Friday, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltán Kovács announced that Hungarian authorities were “trying to avoid the means employed at the Serbian border while preventing illegal migrants from crossing borders unchecked into the European Union.”

György Bakondi, who advises Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on matters of domestic security, announced that some 500 soldiers had joined the 600 already deployed to the Hungarian border, and that another 700 soldiers would be deployed along the Croatian border at the weekend to assist in the construction of a fence .  He also announced that some 800 policemen would be dispatched to the region.

Zoran-Milanović

Shortly after Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic (pictured here) announced Friday morning that Croatia would no longer attempt to register refugees and would allow them to travel wherever they wanted, Croatia began transporting refugees from Pélmonostor near the Croatian-Serbian border to the border crossing at Beremend, where Hungarian police and soldiers armed with machine guns as well as armed military vehicles could be seen.  Apparently wishing to avoid a repeat of last Wednedsay’s “Battle of Röszke” Hungarian authorities allowed the refugees to Hungary, thereby bringing to an inglorious end the government’s policy of preventing asylum seekers from entering the country.

Friday evening police formally announced that  “Confronted with a group consisting of a large number of illegal migrants, the police transported them to designated registration points near the Austrian border.”   The group of 500 people were transported to Vámosszabadi, whence they were transported to the Szentgotthárd later that night.

Friday night a large number of refugees arrived to the border crossing at Gyékényes.  They too were reportedly transported to registration points near the Austrian border.   Another thousand or so refugees on foot arrived to the southwestern city of Nagykanizsa at 8 pm.

Bakondi gets it wrong

At a press conference held in Beremend late Friday night, government spokesman Kovács announced that a thousand refugees had arrived to Hungary by train from Croatia accompanied by some 40 Croatian police “without prior agreement”.  Kovács said the Hungarian authorities had arrested the train driver and that Croatia had committed a serious violation of Hungary’s border.  “The matter is being investated by the Hungarian authorities,” he said.

Bakondi then stated that it was unprecedented for armed Croatian police to arrive to Hungary without prior agreement, and claimed Hungarian police had disarmed them.  This was later denied by the Croatian police  “Nobody was arrested and nobody was disarmed,” announced Jelena Bikić, a spokesperson for the Croatian police, claiming that all 36 Croatian policemen had been allowed to return.

The Croatian interior minister also issued a statement:  “A certain segment of the media announced that Croatian police had been taken into custody in Hungary.  The Croatian Ministry of the Interior hereby informs the population, that this information is mistaken.”

The following morning Hungary’s National Police Magistrate’s office (ORFK) issued a statement confirming that the Croatian police escorting the refugees to Hungary had not been armed, but that they, along with the train driver and the train’s complement, had had their documents checked by police.

According to nol.hu, Hungarian police asked their Croatian colleagues to remain on the train.

Later that night some 3000 refuges were transported from Croatia to the Letenye-Muracsány border, whence they were taken by bus to Szentgotthard and to Vamosszabadi, Hungary, for registration.

At midnight on Friday 14 buses containing 830 refuges arrived to the temporary registration point set up inside the Szentgotthard industrial park.

Saturday

At 7 am Saturday morning an additional 30 buses and a train containing some 2500 refugees arrived to the city on the banks of the Raba near the Hungarian-Austrian border.  From there they were transported to Hegyeshalom, whence police accompanied them on foot across the Austrian border to Miklóshalma.

Later that morning additional buses arrived from Zagreb to the Letenye border crossing where, as in the case of the night before, the refugees were transferred to Hungarian buses.  By noon another eight buses containing 500-600 refugees arrived to the border.  After waiting 5-6 hours at the border, the Hungarian authorities transported them.  MTI reports that the refugees patiently endured the ordeal.

Röszke emptied out

Early Saturday afternoon, the last hundred or so refugees camped out at Röszke were put on buses and transported to Sid on the Serbian-Croatian border.

Sunday

Buses were backed up for several kilometers at the border crossing at Beremend Sunday morning.  Defending the border crossing were some 50 police, according to ATV.  On Sunday morning a number of buses ferrying refugees from Serbia to Hungary via Croatia arrived to the border crossing at Brenda.  One by one, the Hungarian buses entered the no-man’s land to pick up the refugees.

That night more than a thousand refugees arrived from Croatia to Zákány in Somogy county, Hungary, reports state news agency MTI.  They were escorted by Hungarian police from the border to the train station where they boarded a train made of up of some 16 passenger cars.

Later that night more than 400 refugees arrived to the Hungarian frontier town of Barcs, crossing the bridge over the river Dráva on foot.  There they received food, water and warm clothes from Red Cross and Ecumenical Aid Association volunteers.

On Sunday the border crossing on the M5 motorway, closed since Tuesday, reopened.

Hungary calls up its military reserves

Citing the “mass migration situation”, Hungary’s new Minister of Defense, István Simicskó, ordered the activation of army reservists, announcing that they would be assigned to perform barrack duties previously performed by those who are actively protecting the security fence and participating in NATO military exercises.

Monday

On Monday, the communication service of the National Police Magristrate’s office announced that 18,757 illegal migrants had been detained by border guards over the weekend for illegally crossing into Hungary.  That same day a Szeged court convicted 19 people for crossing the border illegally.  The judge ordered them deported from Hungary.  Among the eight men and four women were four Syrians, three Afghans, two Albanians, a Bangladesi, an Algerian and an individual who claimed to be Pakistani.  The accused had allegedly crossed into Hungary illegally at Röszke.

Later that day the same court initiated proceedings against an additional 32 refugees, comprising  20 Syrians, six Turks, three people from Kosovo, two Afghans and a Bangladesi, for climbing over or under the border fence.  The next morning the court ordered the preliminary arrest of a Syrian man for crossing into Hungary during last Wednesday’s disturbances at Röszke.

No end in sight

Over the course of Monday refugees continuously arrived to Barcs and Gyékényes.  Some 12,000 reached the train station in Hegyeshalom.

Early Monday morning new groups of refugees crossed the bridge over the Drava to Hungary having been transported during the night to the Croatian border in buses. The Hungarian police escorted them to the Barcs train station where they transported them.  Several hundred refugees crossed the green border on foot from Croatia into Hungary   Another group of some 1000 individuals arrived to Zákány in Somogy county shortly before noon.

Zákány mayor Szabolcs Jánko told MTI police accompanied refugees from the Croatian border to the train station in small groups where they boarded a train with 16-17 wagons that was waiting for them.  MTI reported that most of the refugees were young men but there were also a lot of small children, many of whom were sick.  They were reportedly treated by ambulance crews.  Volunteers of various aid organizations provided them with food, water and medicine.

That afternoon a train transported some 2500-3000 asylum seekers from Zákány to temporary registration points in Szentgotthàrd and Vámosszabadi.  By noon there was calm in Barcs.

Meanwhile, in Barcs construction continued on a transit zone in earnest, leading MTI to conclude that the authorities were preparing to receive yet another wave of refugees.

Early Monday evening as many as eight buses delivered  another group to the border crossing at Beremend, which the Hungarian border guards then transferred by bus to the train station in Magyarboly.

Monday night around 8 pm  another 800 people arrived to Barcs by bus.  The police accompanied the refugees from the bridge to the temporary waiting area where aid organizations supplied them with drinks, food, clothing and blankets.  After a short rest they escorted them along the banks of the Drava to the train station roughly half a kilometer away, where a train was waiting.

The army get new powers

On Monday the Hungarian parliament gave the police and the army new powers and tasks with which to handle the crisis caused by the mass migration.  By a vote of 151 in favor to 12 opposed, with 27 abstentions, Fidesz-KDNP mustered the two-thirds parliamentary majority necessary to modify the army law so as to permit the army to engage in law enforcement with regard to protecting the border in times of crisis brought on by mass migration.  The law gives soldiers the right to perform duties traditionally performed by police, including the right to check documents, inspect clothing, packages and vehicles, and make arrests as well as participate in immigration and border crossing inspections.

The law also authorizes the army to employ force if necessary in the performance of these new tasks.

Meanwhile, it was announced Tuesday morning that some 12,000 refugees had arrived to Hegyeshalom on Monday.  According to police.hu, police arrested a total of 5530 illegal border crossers on Monday.

The government prefect for Zala county announced Monday morning that a chain-link fence would also be built along the Croatian border even though the Mura river itself constitutes a form of protection against the migrants owing to its unpredictable currents. Csaba Rigó announced that preparations were being made for a fence that could be quickly installed along Zala county’s 42  km border with Croatia along the Mura river.  The remaining 18 km is to be built along ground near the river.