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Hungary Tightens Up Its Border, Brewing Tense Scenes With Incoming Migrants


More tragedy on the seas today as desperate people seek to make their way from Syria and other parts of the Middle East to Europe. At least 34 people drowned, many of them children, when their wooden boat capsized off a Greek island. Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees have made the difficult journey and reached Germany in recent days. But that country has just announced it's tightening its borders.



RATH: German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the great willingness to help that Germany has shown must not be overused. Hungary is also tightening its border, and there have been tense scenes at the crossing near Serbia.


RATH: We go now to reporter Lauren Frayer who's just been to the Hungary-Serbia border. Lauren, tell us about what you saw.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Well, there are thousands of people. There are toddlers on their shoulders, old women sitting in the mud waiting for hours they said to board buses to migrant detention centers here in Hungary where they'll be fingerprinted. Now, they're huddled in a cornfield that's turned into a huge disaster relief area. The U.N. has set up tents here. But there are also piles and piles of garbage. There was an outbreak of diarrhea among little children. Doctors Without Borders is treating them. And many of the refugees here, though, are middle-class, very tech-savvy people. I met Rawad al-Hanoud, who fled his native Syria. He's a doctor, and he's been following news of the drownings in Greece on his smart phone here. And he told me the news brings back bad memories for him.

RAWAD AL-HANOUD: The most terrifying thing is the journey from Turkey to Greece in the boat. It was very difficult. It was a death boat. We have about 47 people in a rubber boat. The journey takes about one hour and a half. We tried twice to get to Greece. The first time, we have been sinking. The second time, we get to the Greece border.

FRAYER: You're so lucky.

AL-HANOUD: Yes, I don't know how to swim.

RATH: Lauren, what does the border actually look like? How is it marked? Is there a fence? What do the migrants physically have to do to cross?

FRAYER: Well, Hungary is building a huge, 110-mile-long security barrier along its whole border with Serbia because that's where most migrants enter up from Macedonia and Greece. The barrier is 13 feet high. Hungarian prisoners have been bused in, and they're rushing to complete it by next month. Now, the parts that aren't yet finished are still lined with barbed wire, and migrants climb over, under, through it at night. And aid workers say they're treating lots of cuts on migrants who've climbed through that wire. The only part of the border that doesn't have a fence is an opening where railway tracks pass. So that's where most migrants cross. But then they end up in this big cornfield that I mentioned and are immediately detained by Hungarian police.

RATH: Germany's interior minister just announced new restrictions on Germany's borders. He said those seeking asylum cannot simply pick out a member state of the European Union to go to. He's suggesting other EU countries will have to take the migrants as well. But how does Hungary's government feel about that?

FRAYER: Well, Hungary's right-wing prime minister said he wants to send migrants back to their own countries. And he calls them illegal migrants. He does not use the word refugees. He's preparing to seal Hungary's borders. The military is already deployed here. Emergency rule is set to go into effect Tuesday, and that makes it illegal to cross this border without a visa. So migrants will be arrested. All this is going to make for an extremely interesting EU summit tomorrow in Brussels. Hungary is against the idea of mandatory quotas for resettling refugees.

RATH: That's reporter Lauren Frayer. She's in southern Hungary near the Serbian border. Lauren, thanks very much.

FRAYER: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.