Hungary shuts border to stem refugee influx

ROSZKE, Hungary—Hungary effectively sealed its border with Serbia on Tuesday to stem the massive influx of refugees, as EU ministers failed in an emergency meeting to agree on sharing the migrants around the bloc.

Budapest’s move came after Austria and Slovakian authorities followed Germany’s lead in reimposing border controls, a further blow to Europe’s cherished passport-free Schengen Zone as the continent grapples with one of its biggest migration crises since 1945.

On Monday afternoon, Hungarian police had closed the main unofficial crossing point—a 40-meter gap in a razorwire barrier for train tracks—and directed migrants to a nearby official crossing point.

But on Tuesday morning, an AFP correspondent said that this official entry point was also closed, leaving several hundred migrants queueing with no apparent hope of entering the EU member state.

“The border was shut and has yet to re-open,” said UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch from the border. 

“Our staff do not have access, and the Hungarian authorities have not let us know about any schedule they have for re-opening the border,” he added.

The closure came as harsh new Hungarian laws came into effect criminalizing “illegal border-crossing” with up to three years in prison. 

Hungary, which has seen some 200,000 migrants enter the country this year, is also building a controversial fence four meters high along the 175-kilometer border with non-EU Serbia.

On Monday, Austria and Slovakia said they would copy economic powerhouse Germany­—the main destination for migrants—in reinstating frontier controls.

The move caused long traffic jams on the Germany-Austria border and major disruption to rail services.

Poland said it was considering similar steps while the Netherlands said it would have “more patrols” on its frontiers.

EU states can impose temporary controls for security reasons under the Schengen treaty but there are fears the very ideal of a borderless Europe could collapse.

Meanwhile, under-pressure EU ministers failed to reach unanimous agreement on a plan to share out 120,000 refugees and ease the burden on frontline states—Hungary, Greece and Italy -- from the tide of people fleeing war zones such as Syria and Afghanistan.

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