Concerns about the possible use of electricity to deter asylum-seekers from crossing Hungary’s southern border with Serbia emerged on Friday after online news portal Index.hu published a photo of Hungary’s border fence with a sign saying “Warning: electric fence!”
According to Index, the warning signs are displayed in Hungarian, Serbian, and Arabic, while electric wiring can be seen along the fence. Index reported from the border that a construction worker had been hospitalized after receiving an electric shock.
Hungary formally completed work on its second fence along the Serbian border late last month.
“The Government decided to construct the second fence because we must prepare for even greater migration pressure,” the Ministry of Interior’s Parliamentary State Secretary Károly Kontrát said at a press conference on Friday marking the completion of construction.
The 2-meter-high fence cost HUF 4.8 billion (USD 17 million) and involved the work of 600 prisoners and 150 professional construction workers.
The Ministry of Interior called the Index report “sensationalist”.
“The truth is that the border fences are not being electrified,” the ministry said in a formal statement, after initially sending contradictory messages to domestic and foreign media outlets. The statement goes on to describe an electric system that has been installed, as Index described, along the border:
“A security alarm system capable of locational detection, and which operates using low-voltage electric impulses, has been set up along a 10-kilometer stretch parallel to the double border fence. The alarm system has been rated for protection against electric shock, and in accordance with the related regulations the international rating agency has declared it incapable of endangering human health.
“Some work-related injuries have occurred during the establishment of the alarm system.”
The Ministry’s explanation did not account, however, for the appearance of warning signs in three languages along the fence about the dangers of electricity.
“It is due to mandatory occupational safety regulations,” a spokesman for the Hungarian government told the Budapest Beacon Monday morning in response to questions about why warning signs are posted when the government’s formal position is that the system is incapable of causing any physical harm.
The Hungarian National Police declined to comment, referring to the Ministry of Interior’s Friday statement.