An unprecedented migrant crisis is causing panic in Europe, the intended destination for many of those risking their lives for a better future.
European nations are putting up various barriers to this migration. For example, they have pushed back against search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean arguing that it creates a "pull factor."
But a new plan from Hungary involves an actual barrier. At a news conference this week, Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, announced that his government was preparing to build a 13-foot-fence along its 109-mile border with Serbia.
"Hungary cannot afford to wait any longer," Szijjártó told reporters on Wednesday.
Hungary is a member of the European Union and the associated Schengen Area, a grouping of 26 countries that have eliminated their internal borders, which means that there are no passport or other border controls. The Hungarian government says that large numbers of migrants use the Hungary-Serbia border to enter the European Union, where they may claim asylum or work illegally.
According to data from Frontex, the European border agency, between January and May of 2015 over 50,000 migrants made illegal border crossings between Serbia and Hungary. Almost half of these migrants were from Kosovo, Frontex's figures suggest, followed by Afghanistan (11,253) and Syria (7,640).
Data from previous years shows a dramatic increase in the number of border crossings in what is referred to as the "Western Balkan route."
E.U. officials, who already have a somewhat difficult recent relationship with Hungary, have criticized the plan, with spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud telling reporters that the organization "does not promote the use of fences and encourages member states to use alternative measures."
Bertaud also went further, apparently alluding to the removal of the border fence between Hungary and Austria in May 1989, an important moment in history that helped lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall. "We have only recently taken down walls in Europe," she said Thursday. "We should not be putting them up."
But so far the most heated response has come from those on the other side of the fence. On Thursday, Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic told Serbian state television during a visit to Oslo that he was "shocked and surprised" by the plan. Serbia, while not an E.U. member, has started talks with the hope of joining the organization and felt that it was being punished despite simply being on the route for migrants from other countries.
"We don't want to live in an Auschwitz," he also said.
Under the leadership of prime minister Viktor Orban, Hungary has taken a hardline position against migrants, threatening to close its border with Serbia completely and calling E.U. proposals for migrant quotas as "mad." Government officials point to figures that suggest the number of refugees per capita is larger than in any E.U. nation other than Sweden, and these numbers are growing.
In his speech on Wednesday, Szijjártó also noted that fences already exist at the borders of E.U. member states Greece and Bulgaria that meet Turkey, a non E.U. state. Fences also surround some Spanish enclaves in North Africa.
International bodies, however, have asked Hungary to soften its stance on migrants, noting that 200,000 Hungarians became migrants in 1956 after the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian revolution. “We need to remember that around the world the primary threat is not from refugees, but to them,” Montserrat Feixas Vihé, UNHCR Regional Representative for Central Europe, said in May.
Ironically, many migrants who make it into Hungary in July will be greeted by English-language billboards that mock Hungary's homegrown migrants. "Come to Hungary by all means, we're already working in London!," says one sign due to be put up by the satirical Two-Tailed Dog Party (MKKP).
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