Europe’s migrant crisis: Hungarian anti-riot police turn tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons on children in bid to keep refugees out

September 16, 2015 9:06 pm

’s migrant crisis took another ugly turn when Hungarian riot
police used tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons to beat back
hundreds of people massed at the border with Serbia after some broke
through a gate. Children cried as they fled from the acrid smoke, and
several people fainted in the chaos.
With the route through
apparently closed, some migrants set out on a longer, more
arduous route into Western Europe through Croatia.

Frustrated
migrants – many of them war refugees from Syria and Iraq – who were
blocked on the Serbian side of the border threw plastic water bottles
and rocks at helmeted riot police and chanted demands that the
now-sealed border be re-opened.

“We fled wars and violence and did not expect such
brutality and inhumane treatment in Europe,” said Amir Hassan, an Iraqi
who was soaking wet from the water cannon and trying to wash tear gas
from his eyes. “Shame on you, Hungarians,” he shouted pointing in the
direction of the shielded Hungarian policemen who were firing volleys of
tear gas canisters directly into the crowd.
One of those who
fainted was a woman who was holding a baby. Children and women cried
while young men with scarves over their faces hurled stones as they
charged toward the police through thick tear gas smoke. Several Serbian
ambulances arrived to treat the injured.
The crowd also lit up
old tires, causing dark smoke to fill the air. Hungarian media reported
that a pregnant woman began giving birth to a baby amid the clashes.

A migrant picks up shoes, at the Horgos border crossing. Photo / AP
A migrant picks up shoes, at the Horgos border crossing. Photo / AP

A migrant cries after a protest at the Horgos border crossing. Photo / AP
A migrant cries after a protest at the Horgos border crossing. Photo / AP
The tensions escalated after hundreds of people broke
through a border gate and were pushed back by the Hungarian police.
Before that, some women had pushed to the front of the crowd holding
small babies and children above their heads as they faced police in an
obvious appeal for mercy, but no one made it through.
Government
spokesman Zoltan Kovacs described the group as an “armed mob of illegal
migrants,” telling reporters at the border that “these people are using
kids as a human shield.”



In the past few months, Hungary has become a main
entry point into the European Union for migrants with more than 200,000
entering the country so far this year. Almost all entered from the
southern border with Serbia and passed through Hungary quickly on their
way to Germany or other wealthy Western European nations.

But
Hungary acted this week to stop the huge flow of people, sealing off
its border with Serbia with a razor-wire fence and making it a crime to
enter the country illegally.
Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter
Szijjarto decried what he called “brutal attacks” by the migrants
against Hungarian police and asked Serbia authorities to crack down on
the migrants, who were on the Serbian side of the border.

Hungarian policemen arrest a migrant at the border crossing into Hungary. Photo / AP
Hungarian policemen arrest a migrant at the border crossing into Hungary. Photo / AP

Hungarian police guard the Horgos border crossing into the Hungary. Photo / AP
Hungarian police guard the Horgos border crossing into the Hungary. Photo / AP
“I think these pictures make it clear why the
Hungarian government decided to take the measures it has recently
taken,” Szijjarto said.
Serbian Labor and Social Care Minister
Aleksandar Vulin expressed “the harshest possible protest” over
Hungary’s use of tear gas and water cannons against the people at the
border. Speaking on Serbian state TV from the Horgos border crossing,
Vulin said he urged refugees to go to a migrant center in Kanjiza to get
food, water, medical aid and rest for a while.
He didn’t have
any information about the injured, but said incidents were expected as
Hungary closed the border. “Hungary must show it is ready and capable to
accept these people,” said Vulin.
Hungarian authorities also
said that they have arrested a total of 519 migrants who tried to cross
the border since tough new laws went into effect on Wednesday that make
it a crime to cross from Serbia anywhere other than at legal
checkpoints. Authorities launched 46 criminal prosecutions and found two
Iraqi men guilty, the first convictions based on the new laws.
Two men were expelled from Hungary and banned from re-entering the country for a year.

Migrants demonstrate at the border crossing into Hungary. Photo / AP
Migrants demonstrate at the border crossing into Hungary. Photo / AP

A migrant pushes a wheelbarrow with children at the Horgos border crossing into the Hungary. Photo / AP
A migrant pushes a wheelbarrow with children at the Horgos border crossing into the Hungary. Photo / AP
Televised images from a courthouse in Szeged earlier
showed four Iraqi men who were charged with their hands tied in front of
them.
Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed Europe for the
crisis, saying it’s a direct result of the West’s support for extremists
in Syria over the past four years.
In an interview with Russian
media, Assad accused Europe of supporting “terrorism” and providing
“protection for terrorists, calling them moderates.”
Earlier in
the day, Hungary’s foreign minister denied that closed borders and tough
new laws signal callousness toward refugees, repeating the government’s
claim that most of those entering Hungary are actually economic
migrants.
“Based on our history, we are always in solidarity with
the refugees,” Szijjarto told The Associated Press in an interview.
“What we’re saying is that we cannot accept economic migrants because we
cannot bear the burden of that.”
Migrants trapped at border
crossing near Horgos, a Serbian village, were confused about whether to
keep waiting or to try to enter the EU through Croatia, a longer and
less direct path into Western Europe.
“I don’t know what to do –
stay here or try some other way to cross the border,” said Ahmed Sami
from Aleppo, Syria. “We walked and traveled for hundreds, thousands of
kilometers only to be stopped meters from the European Union. My wife
and children cannot stand on their feet any more. This is tragic.”
At
least 300 crossed into Tovarnik, Croatia, after they were bused to the
Serbian border town of Sid on an all-night ride from Macedonia.
Croatian
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic criticised Hungary’s decision to seal
its border with Serbia for migrants and said Croatia will not do the
same.
“We are ready to accept these people, regardless of their
religion and the color of their skin, and direct them to the
destinations where they wish to go, Germany and Scandinavia,” Milanovic
told lawmakers in Parliament.
Elsewhere in Europe migrants remained on the move.
Greek
police said about 5,000 refugees and migrants crossed the country’s
northern border with Macedonia in the 24 hours from Tuesday morning to
Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, Austria began selective controls of
vehicles at three main border crossings with Hungary as it tries to
impose some order over the stream of people.

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