Hungary declares state of emergency over refugee crisis

Government deploys troops to border with Serbia in an attempt to stem the flow of refugees into Western Europe

Hungary's government instituted a state of emergency on Tuesday, saying it would bring a halt to refugees attempting to pass through its territory and into Western Europe. The decree enabled authorities to deploy troops to the border with Serbia, close the crossing and detain refugees.

Though parliament must still approve the deployment of military forces, heavily armed military personnel with vehicles and dogs have been spotted at the Serbia border in recent days.

The state of emergency also gives authorities the ability to shut down roads, limit the work of public institutions and speed up court processes for asylum-seekers.

The emergency was decreed as tougher laws also came into effect on Tuesday aimed at preventing asylum-seekers from entering the country. The legislation makes it a crime to try to breach a razor-wire fence along the border with Serbia and also includes longer prison terms for convicted human traffickers.

Early on Tuesday Hungarian officials ordered two of seven border crossings with Serbia closed and arrested nearly 10,000 refugees for entering the country illegally. Later on the same day, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announced plans to also build a razor-wire fence along Hungary’s border with Romania.

The fence would run "a reasonable distance" along the border and span 15 miles, said Szijjarto.

In response to Hungary’s announcement, Romania's foreign ministry said the plans of "raising a fence between two EU member states who are strategic partners is not a fair gesture” and goes against the spirit of the bloc.

Refugees have dashed to enter Hungary in recent days, hoping to reach Western Europe before it is too late. A record 9,380 refugees entered Hungary on Monday, beating the previous record of 5,809 set just a day earlier. The asylum-seekers mainly come from Syria and other war-torn or economically devastated countries in the Middle East.

An estimated 200,000 refugees have so far entered Hungary in 2015, nearly all by walking across the southern border with Serbia. The majority of refugees have not remained in Hungary but made their way into Germany and other European countries.

Under the new laws, most migrants entering the country from Serbia can be turned away because that country is considered safe and could theoretically provide them asylum.

Several other EU states have also instituted new border controls this week, after Germany suddenly introduced security checks at the Austrian border on Sunday. Slovakia said it too would impose controls on its borders with Hungary and Austria.

Czech Prime Minster Bohuslav Sobotka said on Tuesday his country stood ready to deploy the armed forces to protect its borders from an influx of refugees.

Meanwhile, Austria said that it would introduce tougher controls on its border with Hungary at midnight on Tuesday. An Austrian government spokesman added that the new measures might be extended to other Austrian border regions depending on the numbers of refugees trying to enter.

The Netherlands also announced it would make spot checks at its borders. Other EU states from Sweden to Poland said they were monitoring the situation to decide whether controls were needed.

A majority of EU ministers, meeting earlier this week in Brussels, agreed in principle to share out 120,000 asylum seekers on top of some 40,000 distributed on a voluntary basis so far, said Luxembourg, which currently holds the EU presidency. But details of the deal, to be formalized on Oct. 8, were vague with several ex-Communist central European states still rejecting mandatory quotas.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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