Refugees Race into Hungary as Border Fence Nears Completion

Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, August 25, 2015

Thousands of refugees, most fleeing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have been snaking northward through the Balkans in recent days, confronting a Europe woefully unprepared to deal with them at every step.

{snip} Now, the asylum-seekers, thousands a day, are racing into Hungary, which is rushing to complete a barbed-wire border fence by the end of the month to force them to seek other routes.

It is a long parade of misery unparalleled in Europe in recent years. But the continent has so far failed to agree how to respond. Amid a refugee crisis that by some measures is the worst since World War II, individual nations are being left to improvise their own measures. In Hungary, that is taking the form of 108 miles of barbed wire and fencing.

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“Unless we do something, we will become a lifeboat sinking under the weight of people holding on to it and drowning everybody, both those seeking help and those offering help,” said Janos Lazar, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, at a ceremony last week celebrating the founding of Hungary.

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In Hungary, workers have raced to complete the fence by the end of August. In some stretches of the 108-mile-long frontier with Serbia, it is composed of tall coils of razor wire. In others, it is a 10-foot-tall fence.

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On Monday, a record 2,093 asylum-seekers crossed into Hungary, about double the flow of most days in recent weeks, according to police figures. Tuesday’s number looked likely to rival Monday’s, said Babar Baloch, a Budapest-based spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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Local leaders say that the fence is not enough. “It isn’t worth anything,” said Istvan Fackelmann, the deputy mayor of Asotthalom, a small Hungarian border town. “They pass by or climb over.”

Hungary is just a waypoint for most of the migrants. But each step of their journey has been getting more difficult. {snip}

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