Hungary arrests 174 as new anti-migrant laws bite

 Hungarian police on Tuesday arrested 174 people after harsh new laws came into force which punish "illegal border-crossing" with prison terms of several years, authorities said.

Röszke: Hungarian police on Tuesday arrested 174 people after harsh new laws came into force which punish "illegal border-crossing" with prison terms of several years, authorities said.

Under the new legislation, which came into effect at midnight (2200 GMT on Monday), police arrested 60 people for "cutting or damaging" a razorwire barrier along the Serbian border. 

Another 114 people were arrested throughout the day, and officials immediately began criminal proceedings. 

"Police have launched criminal procedures against them," Gyorgy Bakondi, chief adviser to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, told a news conference. 

The new laws are part of Orban`s strategy to stem the flow of migrants -- more than 200,000 so far this year -- who cross Greece then the western Balkans before reaching Hungary on their way to western Europe. 

The changes mean that crossing the border illegally can result in a prison term of up to three years, rising to five years if people damage the razorwire or a more substantial four-metre-high barrier which is still under construction.

Budapest on Tuesday effectively sealed off its southern border with Serbia, blocking a gap in a razorwire barrier where many of the migrants passed through, as well as closing two official crossing points.

"The number of illegal border-crossers has already reduced significantly," government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told reporters at the same news conference.

Hungary is also planning another anti-migrant fence along along part of its border with Romania, a minister said on Tuesday.

"The measure is necessary as people-smugglers may change their routes because of the existing fence on the Hungary-Serbia border, hence a part of the immigration pressure may get directed towards Romania," said Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto 

Hungary, a member of the European Union and the passport-free Schengen zone, has been sharply criticised over the fence it is building along the Serbian frontier, and on Tuesday, Romania denounced the new construction plans as "out of step with the spirit of Europe."

Romania is in the EU but not in Schengen, while Serbia is in neither.

"We don`t want to turn the country into a fortress but we want to protect our borders," Kovacs said. Budapest on Tuesday opened two "transit zones" at the main Roszke crossing and at another called Tompa to fast-track asylum claims.

"The people in the transit zones are, legally speaking, not in Hungarian territory, similar to transit zones in an airport," Kovacs said.

"The transit zones are in operation, completely conforming with Hungarian and international law. Twenty asylum requests are already being processed," he said.

If the asylum claims are rejected, then the migrants can be expelled back to Serbia. 

Orban has already cast doubt as to the veracity of asylum claims, saying people had not fled war, but had fled camps in safe border countries where they had initially found shelter.

Serbia on Tuesday warned it would not cope with migrants being turned back at the border, demanding Hungary reopen its border. 

"I call on Hungary to open its border for the migrants," Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia`s minister for refugees, told AFP at the Horgos crossing, where around a hundred refugees were waiting for the frontier to reopen. 

His remarks came after Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the idea of returning people to Serbia was "unacceptable". 

"The idea of returning all migrants to Serbia, with others flowing in from Greece and Macedonia, is unacceptable, because we would then become the centre of arrivals," he said. 

"Serbia cannot handle this."

So far, 48 asylum claims have been made at Roszke on Tuesday, a third of which were rejected. 

"The message we want to send is: `Don`t come, this route will not take you to your destination`," Bakondi said. 

"Our information suggests that the migrants and also the traffickers have got the message."

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