Hungary Closes Border With Serbia; Vows To Arrest Trespassers
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Hungary has sealed its southern border with Serbia. That happened last night. We're talking about the frontier area where nearly 200,000 migrants and refugees have entered Hungary and the European Union so far this year. Most of them have been on their way to Germany. Let's go now to reporter Lauren Frayer. She is at a border post between Hungary and Serbia. Lauren, good morning to you.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So just help us understand where you are exactly. When we checked in with you a few hours ago, you were at a very quiet railroad crossing between these two countries. And not much was happening. It sounds like that's changed.
FRAYER: It has. The flashpoints along this border keep moving. Now I'm on the side of the main highway between Serbia and Hungary. There's a helicopter overhead. Authorities have just closed down this highway completely to all traffic in either direction. On the other side of the border, in Serbia, hundreds of migrants and refugees have gathered. They're about 200 yards in front of me, across a border checkpoint. And they've been chanting this morning, demanding entry into Hungary. Yesterday, more than 9,300 people crossed this border on foot. Today, new laws are in effect that make that illegal. Last night, as you mentioned, police dragged chain-link fencing and barbed wire across one of the last holes in the border fence, effectively sealing off this European Union frontier. And a lot of these people who are gathering on the Serbian side right now left their homes in the Middle East or Africa five, 10 days ago. So they saw television footage of open borders here. They have family who traveled before them. And now the border is shut, and they don't understand. I was able to talk to some Syrian men this morning across the barbed wire. And they said they're angry. They feel like they were misled.
GREENE: Well, so as Hungary, you know, seals off this border where people were coming through without visas and documents, now that the only way to get across this border might be to go through actual border crossings where you have to show visas, I mean, what can these asylum seekers do now?
FRAYER: So I'm at one of those regular border posts along the highway. There's a checkpoint where people with proper documentation - visas and passports - can cross. It's closed now because of the commotion this morning with people protesting. But on any other day, I could go there with my American passport and pass through. People without ID or without visas to enter Europe, which is the majority of these migrants and refugees, cannot. They also can't simply pass through saying they're in transit to Germany. Asylum seekers are technically required by European Union law to ask for asylum upon entry to the EU. So they'll have to register here at these border checkpoints. And if accepted, then they'll await possible settlement in other countries, according to those quotas that European politicians have so vociferously been arguing over.
FRAYER: Hungary and other Eastern European countries are against them altogether, in fact.
GREENE: So, I mean, just to be clear, this is an area where there have literally been thousands and thousands and thousands of people crossing. If that is now sealed off, I mean, you could have people sort of in Serbia just massing, hoping to get across somehow? Are there other routes that they can take to Germany or elsewhere?
FRAYER: Well, we're waiting to see how big the bottleneck is here on the Serbian side and whether people start rerouting westward to Croatia, eastward to Romania. We don't know. There are people who are still trying to get through this border, even though it's been sealed. Dozens of people were arrested after midnight, when these new laws took effect making border-crossing Syria illegal. People are still climbing through barbed wire, passing through holes in the fence. The difference is that after today, that behavior is criminal behavior. And it's punishable with up to three years in prison. So even if you want to request asylum, if you cross the border illegally, you'll be sent to prison first.
GREENE: All right. That's reporter Lauren Frayer, who is speaking to us from the now sealed-off border between Hungary and Serbia. Lauren, thanks a lot.
FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.