Hungarian police fired water cannons and tear gas at refugees seeking to cross razor-wire barriers at the Serbian border on Wednesday, part of the country’s escalating crackdown on survivors of war and poverty seeking entry en route to Western Europe.
The confrontations occurred in what has become a “no man’s land” between the Serbian village of Horgoš and the Hungarian village of Roszke, not far from the main border crossing. People in the crowd, many of whom are escaping Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, clapped and chanted “Open, open, open!”
At one point, women moved to the front of the crowd holdings babies over their heads in an apparent appeal for humanity.
“We fled wars and violence and did not expect such brutality and inhumane treatment in Europe,” Amir Hassan, who is from Iraq, told the Associated Press as he washed tear gas from his eyes. “Shame on you, Hungarians,” he then shouted towards the police forces.
The following footage shows scenes from the Hungarian authorities’ attack:
The crowd had reportedly been seeking to escape a squalid camp on a Serbian road, where they remain trapped after the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán shut the border to refugees on Tuesday.
“Since the area near the border crossing is open countryside along a motorway, there is no shelter or food, and severely limited toilets and running water. The refugees are doing all they can to keep the situation under control, but conditions are extremely dire,” Amnesty International reported Wednesday. “Any refugees who have tents are using them, but hundreds are sleeping rough on the motorway or the roadside.”
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According to Amnesty International, aid groups and the UN refugee agency have been “virtually absent so far.”
The crisis is exacerbated by an escalating crackdown orchestrated by the Hungarian government. Hungarian authorities said on Wednesday that they have arrested a total of 519 people who tried to cross into the country after “states of emergency” were declared and new laws went into effect on Tuesday that imposed harsh criminal penalties on people seeking unauthorized entry.
Meanwhile, the government continues to construct a razor-wire fence along the border and deploy military and police personnel. And disturbing footage emerged last week of deeply inhumane conditions at one of the country’s larger refugee camps.
Hungary has been the main route by land that refugees have been traveling to reach the European Union’s Schengen zone. But under the harsh conditions, refugees are findings new paths, with hundreds journeying through Croatia.
But they face increasingly harsh policies across the European continent, as countries tighten their borders and lag on humanitarian commitments. While many ordinary people in Europe are mobilizing to show refugees that they are welcome, those fleeing war and poverty also face racist and xenophobic blowback—from mobs as well as governments. Meanwhile, wealthy nations beyond Europe—including the United States—are admitting a dismally low number of asylum seekers.
Speaking from Horgoš, Tirana Hassan, director of crisis response at Amnesty International, said the culpability expands far beyond the Hungarian government. “The Serbian authorities and the European Union knew this was going to happen and yet failed to respond adequately, meaning hundreds of the most vulnerable people are now stuck between razor wire and the abyss of not knowing what comes next.”
Among those still stranded near the border between Hungary and Syria, there are reports of confusion, as well as mutual aid, as strangers and family alike share meager food and shelter with each other.