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Hungary Erects Razor-Wire Fence To Slow Refugee Flow Into European Union

Aug 27, 2015
Originally published on August 28, 2015 1:34 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Europe is dealing with its biggest migration crisis since the Second World War. In unbelievable numbers, people from Syria, Africa, South Asia and elsewhere are flowing north from the Mediterranean. The road, for many them, goes through Hungary, and we are seeing this morning embarking on this migrant trail can have some tragic consequences. Austrian officials say they've found as many as 50 suspected migrants dead inside a cargo truck outside Vienna. This truck was registered in Hungary. We should say, Hungary has not been very welcoming to migrants. The country is building a razor wire fence along its border with Serbia, and the government says it will close that border on Monday. Marton Dunai is a reporter with Reuters based in Hungary. He just got back from a visit to the border, where he saw that fence.

MARTON DUNAI: And it's not a very sturdy construction. Migrants often just raise the bottom cylinder and then crawl underneath or put a blanket over and climb underneath.

GREENE: So people are making it under the fence with no problem. Many other refugees are avoiding the fence by crossing into Hungary through a gap along a railway line - so not the most effective fence. But Marton Dunai says it was built, in large part, by the government to send a message.

DUNAI: The prime minister and many members of his cabinet have made it perfectly clear, saying things like, we don't want thousands and thousands rampaging through the country every day. And they want to control that somehow. But according to the Helsinki Committee, which is a rights group here in Hungary, more than 90 percent of those people leave within a couple of days.

GREENE: Marton, the fact that the Hungarian government feels the need to send some sort of political message like this, what does that say about the people of Hungary and what they're demanding and thinking right now?

DUNAI: Well, what I can say is what we're hearing on the streets, and Hungarians are growing increasingly polarized about this whole issue. There's a growing number of people who are completely resentful about the flow of migrants, and they want it shut down. And the prime minister has used some very, very strong language to exploit those sentiments, comparing the migrants to criminals, terrorists, and linking them to unemployment, even as it's perfectly clear to everybody that these people are not staying here. One senior member of the intellectual circles that surround the prime minister has very recently said that the problem with the migrants, aside from the fact that there's so many of them and they're so poor, is their skin color. So there's some really off-tones, but the reality on the ground is that Hungary isn't really doing much to halt the flow.

GREENE: What does the prime minister get out of having such a tough PR policy, as you describe it?

DUNAI: I guess the prime minister just wants to capitalize on this. And this is a clear case when what they say is not necessarily in sync with what they do. And because of the tough rhetoric, people thought that this fence was going to be some sort of a Fortress Europe kind of thing, but it's - so far anyway - clearly not that.

GREENE: Many people are seeing it as a political stunt.

DUNAI: Yes, exactly. But beyond that, the fence really does control the flow of migrants in a way that the government probably thought desirable. Instead of seeping through the woods as they did a couple of months ago - they literally just climbed across a few ditches that were there along the border and disappeared into the woods and were everywhere along the border. Now it's a very concentrated flow, that 90 percent of the flow goes along the railway tracks. And the police just pick them up.

GREENE: I see. And presumably, this can send a message to the people of Hungary that the government is managing this in some orderly way.

DUNAI: Precisely, yes. There's actually one more thing that might be worth mentioning. When I said that the society is polarizing, one side of it, obviously, is that many people are growing more and more fed up with this. But there's another side, which has people that are sympathetic to the migrants, people that want to help them, and they are organizing - grassroots civil groups are organizing in incredible ways. People are gathering at railway stations around the country, gathering them food and water and information and helping them out in all sorts of ways, often working, you know, 16-hour days, months on end. So it's not just the animosity. A lot of people do recognize that these migrants need help.

GREENE: All right. We've been speaking to Marton Dunai. He's a reporter with Reuters based in Hungary. Marton, thanks very much.

DUNAI: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.