ROSZKE, Hungary (AP) - Hungary deployed police reinforcements to rein in an unrelenting flow of migrants across its porous border Thursday, but refugee activists said the effort appeared futile in a nation whose migrant camps are overloaded and barely delay their journeys west into the heart of the European Union.
Police reported a single-day record of 3,241 detentions of migrants on Wednesday, 700 more than the previous day, as they launched a new initiative seeking to channel migrants to one of the country’s five camps using special trains. Under police escort, about 600 asylum seekers boarded one train to be delivered directly to at least two migrant camps.
But at several points along Hungary’s meandering 109-mile (174-kilometer) border with non-EU member Serbia, undaunted migrants crossed the frontier on foot. Some said it was safer to walk rather than risk death by being smuggled in a vehicle. That risk was highlighted by Thursday’s discovery in neighboring Austria of the badly decomposing bodies at least 20 - and perhaps up to 50 - migrants dead inside an abandoned Hungarian-plated refrigerated truck.
Many crawled, boot camp-style, under coils of razor wire designed to be Hungary’s first line of defense. Some clutched toddlers to their chests. Elsewhere, others encountering Hungary’s partially erected 13-foot-tall (4-meter-tall) border fence deployed both brain and brawn to traverse the wire-mesh barrier.
Others flowing from Serbia’s main border encampment near Kanjiza maintained an orderly line on a cross-border rail track that cannot be blocked by fencing. A lone Hungarian police helicopter monitored the steady flow of migrants walking along those tracks and, once into Hungary, fanning out through lush fields of sunflowers and corn.
Police rounding up migrants put them first on buses, then on the first of many planned “special” trains in Hungary’s principal border city, Szeged. One elderly female migrant, on crutches with her foot in a cast, was helped into one carriage. Another man already aboard, a Syrian named Nabil Mohammed, complained to an Associated Press reporter that police had separated him from his two sons, who remained behind at a makeshift border camp.
The new police-escorted train policy sought to strengthen Hungary’s previous practice of issuing free train tickets to migrants along with instructions to report voluntarily to one of the country’s five Immigration Office-run camps. Few took the advice, many instead camping out in the capital, Budapest.
The nationalist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban blamed EU partners for putting Hungary in the immigration front line and for providing too little logistical support.
“The European Union is incapable of defending Europe’s borders. The European Union is so weak,” Janos Lazar, Orban’s chief of staff, told reporters Thursday.
Lazar said the Cabinet wanted to make the half-built fence more difficult to scale by crowning it with more razor-wire coils. He said parliamentary approval would be sought to deploy the army along the border.
About 145,000 migrants have been detained already this year in Hungary, more than triple the figure recorded in all of 2014. The government says about 40,000 of the migrants, who mostly travel without passports to complicate deportation, have identified themselves as Syrian fleeing the 4-year civil war there.
Those who report to the open camps rarely stay, sometimes long enough only to collect money wired by relatives, before continuing west through the passport-free EU zone. Their preferred destinations are wealthier nations, particularly Germany, which in recent months has received around 40 percent of all asylum applicants in the 28-nation bloc.
Hungary’s lobbying group for migrants, Migszol, said the country’s effort to ship newcomers to holding centers seemed pointless given the lack of space at the facilities, some of them former Soviet army bases.
A Migszol spokesman, Zoltan Kekesi, who monitored police’s loading of migrants onto the Szeged train, said Orban’s government was trying to look “tough” amid withering international derision of its border security measures.
“You or me or anyone can climb over or crawl under the fence in two minutes,” Kekesi said.
Associated Press reporters Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary; Bela Szandelszky in Szeged and Roszke, Hungary; and Jovana Gec and Amer Cohadzic in Kanjiza, Serbia, contributed to this report.
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