Hungary: Fence on Serbia Border Forced Step to Stop Migrants

BUDAPEST, Hungary ó Jul 1, 2015, 9:59 AM ET
By PABLO GORONDI Associated Press

The fence Hungary wants to build on the Serbian border to stem the flow of illegal migrants is a "forced measure" not aimed at its southern neighbor, Hungary's prime minister said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a press conference alongside Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic that he believed the issue of large-scale migration toward Europe would be an enduring problem.

"It's an illusion for anyone to think that people from the African crisis areas will keep arriving in Europe only until the crises there are pacified," he said after a joint Serbian-Hungarian government meeting. "If we allow it, a modern mass migration could take place of millions, even tens of millions and even hundreds of millions."

The planned 4-meter (13-foot) high fence along the 175-kilometer (109-mile) border between Hungary and Serbia has been criticized by Hungary's neighbors, the European Union and human rights groups, but Orban said its only purpose was to protect Hungary.

"We consider the whole issue of the fence an issue of border control," Orban said. "We don't consider it an issue of human rights, of foreign policy or of bilateral relations."

Vucic said the fence was "not pleasant" for Serbia and that, with Hungary's help, controls would be increased at Serbia's border with Macedonia, where many of the migrants and refugees enter his country.

"We all know that Hungary is not building a fence against Serbia, because Hungary is friendly toward Serbia and Serbia feels the same about Hungary and Hungarians," Vucic said. "It is in Hungary's interests to defend its own territory."

Hungary says that police have detained more than 67,000 illegal immigrants this year, nearly all arriving from Serbia, including an average of more than 1,000 people a day over the past week.

Many request asylum in Hungary, though most leave for Germany, Austria and other destinations further west as soon as they can.

Most refugees in the past months have come from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq while Hungary's refugee camps are filled far beyond normal capacity.

A camp in Bicske, 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the capital, Budapest, is meant to accommodate about 350 people but with the addition of tents it now holds some 1,100 refugees.

"The conditions are very poor," said Vladislav, a refugee from northeast Ukraine who has been at the camp since October. He said sports activities in a large hall had been suspended because about 100 were sleeping there now.

Despite the overcrowding, Vladimir said there was a "very good atmosphere" in the camp.

"In most situations, people try to help each other," he said.