Thousands of migrants, many from Syria, poured into Hungary on Tuesday as soldiers frantically tried to finish a border fence to keep them out — the latest flashpoint as Europe struggles to handle a torrent of asylum seekers.
The rush over the border by migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia followed Macedonia’s decision to lift a three-day blockade of its border with Greece after thousands of migrants simply stormed past the Macedonian police who tried to stop them with force.
Nearly 10,000 migrants, including many women with babies and small children, have crossed into Serbia over the past few days and then headed up north toward European Union-member Hungary. Once inside the 28-nation EU, they seek to reach more prosperous Western European nations such as Germany.
The so-called Balkan corridor for migrants is becoming increasingly popular as migrants seek to avoid the dangerous boat crossings in the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy.
About 140,000 migrants have reached Hungary already this year, over three times as many as in all of 2014. According to Hungarian police data, 2,093 migrants were detained while crossing illegally Monday, the highest figure so far this year. Over the past week, the average was nearly 1,500 people a day.
So far the Hungarian border fence consists of three layers of razor wire, which the government says will be completed this month along its 174-kilometer (109-mile) border with Serbia. But there’s no wire over railroad lines and roads and there are doors on the fence where the migrants can enter and formally seek asylum.
Once they do, they can easily slip from Hungarian asylum centers and head further west and north.
Hungary, beleaguered by the influx and facing a right-wing backlash, has been rushing to build the fence both as a physical barrier and a symbol of its tough anti-foreigner stance. The government’s anti-migrant billboard campaign and efforts to link migration with terrorism have drawn sharp criticism from the U.N. and others.