Budapest says it has commenced 13-foot-high wall along Serbian frontier to keep illegal immigrants out

Serbian border police officer inspects a path trough a wheat field near the Hungarian border near the northern Serbian city of Subotica on June 16, 2015.(AFP/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC)
Serbian border police officer inspects a path trough a wheat field near the Hungarian border near the northern Serbian city of Subotica on June 16, 2015.(AFP/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC)


BUDAPEST (AFP) — Hungary said Wednesday it was building a four-meter (13-foot) high fence on its border with Serbia to keep out migrants, as the EU struggles to deal with a massive influx of people trying to reach Europe.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said he was “surprised and shocked” by the plan. “We will discuss this decision with our Hungarian colleagues,” he added.

“Building walls is not the solution. Serbia can’t be responsible for the situation created by the migrants, we are just a transit country. Is Serbia responsible for the crisis in Syria?” Vucic said on state television.

Hungary’s announcement came as Pope Francis hit out at nations that “close the door” to those seeking a safe haven from war, poverty and persecution.

In Budapest, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said his government had ordered work to start on the barrier along the length of its 175-kilometer (110-mile) border with Serbia.

“Preparation work for the fence should be completed by next Wednesday,” he said.

“This decision does not break any international treaty, other countries have opted for the same solution,” he added, citing similar barriers on the Greek-Turkish and Bulgarian-Turkish frontiers and around Spanish exclaves in Morocco.

Last year, Hungary received more refugees per capita than any other EU country apart from Sweden, recording 43,000 arrivals in total.

So far this year some 54,000 refugees have entered Hungary, according to government figures, a sharp rise from the 2,000 who arrived in the central European state in 2012.

As a European Union member Hungary is in the passport-free Schengen zone. Once inside Hungary, migrants can therefore travel easily elsewhere in the 26-nation zone.

Hungary says around 95 percent of the migrants to have entered the country so far this year came through Serbia, which is not yet a member of the EU.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has sparked accusations of xenophobia over anti-immigration comments and a poster campaign with slogans such as “If you come to Hungary, you cannot take Hungarians’ jobs.”

Serbia’s Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic called on neighboring Bulgaria and Greece — both EU members — to “make more of an effort” to stop migrants entering the former Yugoslav republic.

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in Europe this year, 60,000 through Italy alone, according to the EU’s border agency Frontex.

Szijjarto said that with EU efforts towards a satisfactory joint approach proving to be “long and time-consuming”, Hungary “cannot afford to wait any longer”.

On Tuesday, European interior ministers failed to come to a decision on European Commission proposals to redistribute 40,000 Syrians and Eritreans who have arrived in Europe, and to resettle 20,000 Syrians living in camps outside Europe.

“We have made progress today but we are not there yet,” EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said after the talks in Luxembourg. “Words are not enough.”

Leaders had promised action after an estimated 800 migrants died in a shipwreck in April, the worst disaster yet in the Mediterranean in a year in which 1,800 people have perished trying to cross from Africa and the Middle East on flimsy boats.

Italy together with crisis-hit Greece are receiving the bulk of the migrants. Under the EU’s Dublin accords, the country where migrants are first registered is where they have to stay.

Rome wants other countries to take in some of the migrants, with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi warning of a “plan B” that would “hurt Europe” if other countries fail to help.

Italian media reported that Rome could start issuing newly arrived migrants with temporary visas giving them the right to travel throughout the Schengen zone.

“The principle of responsibility and solidarity are at stake,” Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said Tuesday. “We are working to prevent Europe from becoming politically bankrupt.”

Britain, Ireland and Denmark are already exempt from carrying out the plans under EU treaties, but many of the other 25 member states reject quotas under pressure from anti-immigrant parties.

EU leaders will hold fresh talks at a summit in Brussels on June 25-26 but a decision then is also unlikely.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday called for the EU to take in one million refugees, while Amnesty International slammed leaders for “condemning millions of refugees to an unbearable existence”.

On Wednesday Pope Francis added his voice to these calls, demanding greater respect for “our brothers and sisters who seek refuge far from their own lands.”

“And I invite everyone to ask God’s pardon for those people and institutions who close the door to those who are seeking a family, who are seeking to be protected,” he said.

As reported The Times of Israel