A group of migrants congregate near a small, smoky fire inside an abandoned building in northern Serbia, for the last moments of the summer before they drive into the snow driving toward razor wire, cameras and sensors of Hungary’s electrified border fence Get set.
A few hours later, they return, their attempts to cross towards Hungary and Western Europe were thwarted by a 3-metre fence and heavy Hungarian police patrols who, after stopping them, took them back across the border into Serbia. .
“I’m going to Austria, I’m going to Germany, I’m going to the Netherlands,” says Muhtar Ahmed, a 26-year-old from Aleppo, Syria, who is temporarily sitting with about 35 other migrants. Camp outside the Serbian village of Mazdan, less than 2 kilometers from the Hungarian border.
“I’m not living in Hungary. What’s the problem?”
As expatriates from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries are on the final leg of their long journey to Europe’s wealthier countries, their attempts to cross into the European Union irregularly via Hungary – and to return them to Serbia if caught. The country’s controversial practice – has made him part of a political campaign with which the Hungarian nationalist leader hopes to win the upcoming general election.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who suggests April will face his closest election in more than a decade, is campaigning on a tough anti-immigration platform and as a means of killing a wave of migrants at the Hungarian border. Willing to use the possibility. Mobilize your conservative voter base.
In a rare appearance before reporters in December, Orban claimed, “Just this year we stopped and detained … more than 100,000 people.” “If the Hungarian fence had not stood there, more than 100,000 illegal migrants would now be in Austria, then in Germany.”
Orban, one of the most vocal opponents of immigration in Europe, has said that migration threatens to change the continent’s Christian culture, and that illegal migrants are responsible for bringing infections such as COVID-19 variants to his country.
“We don’t want to be an immigrant country,” Orban said during an interview with state radio this week.
As the April 3 election draws closer, they have portrayed more of the current migration pressures than in 2015, when hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to the EU fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere, and when they left the country. The construction of the border was ordered. Obstacle.
But figures released by Serbian officials and the EU’s border and coast guard agency show far fewer people attempting to enter Hungary than the right-wing leader claims.
“It is a slightly larger number than two years ago, but it is not a large number. It is a small increase,” said the chief officer of a migrant reception center in the northern Serbian city of Subotica with the current level of migrants along the Hungarian border Nemanja Matejic said.
While the Hungarian police put the number of migrants by Hungarian authorities at more than 122,000, data from the European Union’s border agency Frontex showed that there were 60,540 illegal border crossing attempts on the western Balkan migration route last year, including Hungarian-Serbia. limit is included.
Furthermore, since most migrants are making repeated attempts to cross, the number of persons involved is still very small.
The Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration reports that 4,276 migrants live in reception centers in Serbia and another 1,000 are sleeping.
Frontex noted that most of the Western Balkan crossings “can be traced back to people who have been in the region for some time and who repeatedly attempt to reach their target country in the EU.”
Hikmad Serat, 20, from Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, took refuge in a remote abandoned building near the Serbian border town of Horgos this month as temperatures soared to -10 degrees Celsius.
Seurat said he had been in Serbia for 15 months and lost count of the number of times he crossed Hungary and was turned back by police.
“Sometimes I try, 100 times, more than 100 times … Every time, the police arrest me and deport me back to Serbia,” Seurat said.
This practice – where police deny migrants the right to apply for asylum and repatriate them across national borders – is known as “pushback”. It has been declared illegal by the top court of the European Union and violates international asylum treaties.
Matijic, the head of the reception centre, said the dozens of migrants attempting to cross are “typical”.
“Sometimes a man tries once and goes, he’s lucky… sometimes they try 50 more times… they try and try again,” he said .
Many migrants have reported abuse by the police after leaving Serbian territory for Hungary, or Croatia or Romania. This includes destroying or stealing mobile phones, sitting or kneeling in the snow for hours, and beatings – allegations that are very difficult to independently substantiate.
Romanian police did not respond to questions from the Associated Press. But Hungary’s national police headquarters wrote in an email that they “strongly reject the baseless allegations” of mistreatment of migrants.
Yet Matejic said 150 cases of broken limbs were reported by the Subotica Reception Center in 2019.
“Sometimes they break their phone, cops. Sometimes they take their money. Sometimes they break their legs. It is a different experience for everyone,” Metzic said.
Orban has asked the European Union to reimburse Hungary at least half of the costs related to the construction, maintenance and patrolling of its border fence, which it has said amounted to $1.9 billion over the past six years.
Once at odds with the EU’s more liberal member states, he has threatened to open “a corridor along which migrants can travel to Austria, Germany and Sweden and those who need them.”
Despite the threats, Faris al-Ibrahimi, a Moroccan expatriate at the Subotica reception center who intends to travel to Spain, said he was adamant after being pushed back 27 times by Hungarian police.
“I’m still going to try. I won’t give up now… I’ll try until I succeed,” he said. “It’s an adventure. We cross, we go, they catch us, we come back, we go again. It’s like a game for us.”