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Asylum seekers demonstrated at the Hungarian-Serbian border demanding safe passage to Western Europe

2020.02.07. 15:49

On Thursday evening, several hundred asylum seekers gathered at the Kelebia crossing on the Serbian-Hungarian border after marching from the town of Subotica, demanding safe passage to Western Europe. Unlike the incident last week when illegal immigrants broke through the fence at the Röszke border crossing, Thursday's demonstration was peaceful. It ended at 1:00 AM when Serbian police showed up with approximately 15-20 buses and took the refugees back to the camps. Our colleague, Tamás Német was at the scene.

What happened at Röszke a week ago?

At 5:30 AM on 28 January, a group of around 60 illegal immigrants attempted to enter Hungary by breaking through the fence at the Röszke checkpoint on the Hungarian-Serbian border. After a security guard fired warning shots, they turned back, but four migrants (two Palestinian and two Syrian citizens) were captured by the police and subsequently sentenced to a year in prison for illegally crossing the border. CCTV footage of the incident:

Így próbálták áttörni a kerítést a magyar határon

Information about the march had previously leaked to the public, and though an e-mail presented by Hungarian public media, supposedly sent to asylum seekers, said that the meet-up was supposed to be on Thursday evening at 8:00 PM, the march actually left Subotica earlier in the afternoon. By the time they arrived at the Kelebia border, the checkpoint was closed with a large iron gate with approximately 50 policemen lining up on the other side.

Participants of the decidedly silent march stressed that their demonstration is peaceful and that they want Hungary to grant them safe passage towards Western Europe, mostly to Germany. Many refugees told our reporter that they had been stranded in Serbia for a considerable time. 

There were several children amongst the demonstrators, some were sent to the gates by their parents later on during the evening to chant "Please open the borders" while holding signs with messages such as "our children deserve a better life." This is what the border looked like at around 8:00 PM:

Menekültek a szerb-magyar határnál

During the night, Serbian Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vulin showed up at the scene and told journalists that fake news about the Hungarians opening the borders were spreading amongst the refugees which is why so many of them showed up at Kelebia, arriving from several locations in the country. He said that there are approximately 6000 refugees currently in Serbia who mostly attempt to cross over the Hungarian or the Croatian border.

By this time, a stalemate has formed: most asylum seekers were already sitting or laying down on the ground, preparing for spending the night by the border, while groups of four or five kept arriving at a slowing rate, several of them coming from Subotica with cabs. As it was becoming more and more apparent that the Hungarian authorities would not open the gates, the only question was how Serbia was going to handle the situation, and it was shortly answered:

At 1:00 AM, around 15-20 buses and several police vans arrived at the border, and after herding journalists out from the area, they put the refugees on the buses.

Elszállítják a menekülteket a kelebiai határátkelőről

At 2:00 AM, six or seven buses filled with refugees pulled out from the Kelebia checkpoint escorted by police vans. Our reporter, having been told to leave the area, did not see how much convincing power Serbian police needed to employ to get the refugees on the buses that took them to refugee registration centres, hearsay had it that their destination was the Preševo camp near the North-Macedonian border, as our colleague reported from the scene. As refugee camps in Serbia are open, the only thing this achieved is that it will take some more days for these couple of hundred refugees to reach the Hungarian, or alternatively, the Croatian border once again.

At 7:00 AM on Friday morning, Hungarian police reopened the Kelebia checkpoint, cross-border traffic has since returned to normal.

On Friday, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee issued a press release stating that the Hungarian government hardly allows anybody into the two transit zones set up at the southern border, the only place where refugees can submit asylum requests in Hungary. The press release claims that by the government's arbitrary decision, only 394 refugees (mostly women and children) were allowed to submit requests in 2019, and nobody was allowed to enter the Tompa transit zone since December. The organisation commented that Thursday's protest was a "foreseeable, logical consequence" of how asylum requests are handled in Hungary. Index reached out to the National Directorate-General for Aliens Policing and the Prime Minister's Office for comments, we will update our article as soon as they respond.

(Cover: István Huszti / Index)

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