Hungary army gets new powers as Europe struggles with refugee crisis
Hungary on Monday gave the army drastic new powers to stem illegal migration ahead of two key EU meetings on how to handle the unrelenting stream of refugees entering Europe.
Budapest: Hungary on Monday gave the army drastic new powers to stem illegal migration ahead of two key EU meetings on how to handle the unrelenting stream of refugees entering Europe.
Hundreds of thousands fleeing conflict and poverty have already made it into western Europe this year, with Austria registering 22,700 arrivals this weekend alone, after being shunted from one Balkan country to another as they travelled up from Greece.
Lawmakers in Hungary, which sealed off its border with Serbia last week to stop the flood of people heading north, on Monday approved a final package of sweeping new anti-migrant laws.
Under the legislation, the army can participate in border control and may use non-lethal force, while police will be able to enter private homes to look for illegal migrants.
"Soldiers deployed to the border can use coercive weapons designed to cause bodily harm, although in a non-lethal way, unless it cannot be avoided," it says, referring to rubber bullets, tear gas grenades and net guns.
Last week, other legislation came into force allowing Hungary to jail anyone caught crossing the border illegally, which carries a maximum fine of five years in prison.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban told lawmakers in Budapest that migrants were "overrunning" Europe.
"They`re not just banging on the door, they`re breaking the door down on top of us," the 52-year-old right-winger said.
"Our borders are in danger, our way of life built on respect for the law, Hungary and the whole of Europe is in danger."The continent`s worst migration crisis since World War II has exposed deep rifts within the 28-nation European Union, particularly between members in the former communist east and the wealthier west, the migrants` preferred destination.
EU interior ministers will meet on Tuesday ahead of a bloc-wide emergency summit on Wednesday.
On Monday, foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Latvia -- all of which reject proposals for binding migrant quotas championed by Germany -- met in Prague with their counterpart from Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency.
Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna said Warsaw could take in more refugees than its share under the proposed European Union quota plan to relocate 120,000 people, but stressed this should be on a voluntary basis and under certain conditions.
After the talks, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek insisted they were "absolutely dedicated" to reaching an agreement with fellow EU nations.
"We`re aware that Europe needs joint collective action to accelerate the solution to the still very painful situation."
Sources in Brussels said EU ministers were considering a watered-down plan to relocate migrants and refugees, which would drop binding quotas and leave recalcitrant Hungary out of the scheme altogether.
Unaware of the diplomatic wranglings currently taking place, the tide of newcomers continued to try and reach the perceived safe havens of Germany and Sweden.
"It`s taken me 14 hours to come here from the border between Serbia and Croatia," said Mohamed at the Beremend crossing on the Croatia-Hungary frontier.
"I hope to be able to arrive in Germany soon as I have spent all my money," adds the 23-year-old Syrian from Damascus, who says the journey has cost him around 2,000 euros ($2,200).
In Turkey, a few hundred mostly Syrian refugees who had spent the night camped on the hard shoulder of a motorway outside Istanbul were stopped by police after walking along the emergency lane in the midst of heavy morning traffic.
They had been blocked for the past week at Istanbul`s main bus station, and were trying to reach Edirne in the northwest, which has become a new rallying point for migrants trying to reach Europe.Nearly half a million people have undertaken the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year, International Organization for Migration figures show, indicating that 2,800 of them died on the way.
At the weekend, at least 13 more drowned, among them six children, when the inflatable dinghy carrying them from Turkey to Greece collided with a ship.
On Monday, Germany`s interior minister urged Europe to take in refugees directly from crisis regions, to help them bypass traffickers who charge huge sums for dangerous journeys to the continent.
"I suggest we agree on a generous quota in which we take refugees from crisis regions to Europe without allowing people smugglers to profit from it," Thomas de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin.