MORAHALOM, Hungary (Reuters) - Police detained 501 migrants over the weekend who cut their way through Hungary’s steel border fence, the highest number since Hungary sealed off its southern borders in mid-October.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has boosted his public support with a tough stance on migration. His right-wing government has put up a fence on the borders with Serbia and Croatia to keep out the mostly Middle Eastern migrants.
The fence diverted the flow of migrants away from Hungary toward Croatia and Slovenia last year when hundreds of thousands crossed the Balkans en route to Austria and western Europe.
However, as the weather improved in recent weeks, the number of migrants increased, and more began to cut through the fence despite a heavy police presence.
Not everyone jumps the fence, which is a crime in Hungary. On Monday a group of 20 to 30 migrants approaching from Serbia ran into dozens of police and soldiers patrolling the border near the town of Morahalom.
The migrants just headed to the nearest border station along the fence’s Serbian side, shadowed by police in Hungary.
After a while, they sat down and asked for water, cigarettes and food across the fence.
“We don’t find a job,” said a man who said he was Moroccan.
“Six days no food, three days no water, four days no sleep,” added another one, from Algeria.
Orban said Hungary would not let in any migrants who are not eligible for asylum. Those who are caught cutting the fence go to court and are expelled.
Orban told parliament on Monday that the biggest achievement of last week’s EU summit was that European leaders finally said external borders of the Schengen Area had to be protected.
“The protection of the southern borders (of the EU) became possible... and if the Austrians keep their word, and other countries on the Balkans route also act as they announced, it will be also easier to protect Hungary’s southern borders.”
Orban reiterated Hungary would strengthen its fence and may extend it towards Romania if needed.
Austria has set a daily limit of 3,200 migrants arrivals and 80 asylum claims. Slovenia has erected a fence on its southern border with Croatia to ensure that migrants can only enter the country through official border crossings.
Additional reporting by Marton Dunai