Record numbers cross Hungary border as refugee crisis escalates
Record numbers of refugees are streaming into EU member Hungary from Serbia, posing a new headache for regional leaders at a summit this week set to be dominated by Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II.
Almost 2,100 people, the highest ever daily total, crossed the border near the Hungarian town of Roszke on Monday, police said, just days before Hungary completes a vast razor-wire barrier to keep out migrants.
They were part of around 7,000 refugees whose hazardous journey to the European Union had been temporarily blocked last week when Macedonia declared a state of emergency and shut its borders for three days to halt the huge influx of people mostly fleeing war in Syria.
Authorities reopened the crossing after chaotic scenes involving police lobbing stun greandes at the migrants trying to break through the border.
"We were stopped in Macedonia for two days, the riots were terrible, police used guns and teargas, I saw an old woman beaten, her money and papers taken," said a 29-year-old IT engineer from Mosul in Iraq who said he had left his home to escape the Islamic State group. He asked not to be named.
The UN's refugee agency said on Tuesday it expected the number of refugees moving through Macedonia to double from around 1,500 per day to 3,000 per day, many of them women and children.
It warned that the situation was also worsening on the shores of Greece and Italy, where the number of Mediterranean sea crossings was now approaching 300,000.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 2,370 have drowned in the Mediterranean, already exceeding the death toll for the whole of 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.
- 'EU's approach not working' -
The UN called on Europe to "establish a human-rights based, coherent and comprehensive migration policy", as the bloc struggled to find a response to the unprecedented numbers of refugees arriving -- from the thousands landing on the shores of Greece and Italy to the hundreds risking their lives to climb onto trucks to travel from France to Britain.
"Let's not pretend that what the EU and its member states are doing is working," said the UN's special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau.
He called for "opening up the regular labour markets through smart visas" to be issued to migrants.
His comments came as Britain announced tough new measures against illegal migrant workers.
People found working illegally in England and Wales face up to six months in prison and could have their wages seized, the centre-right Conservative government said.
The migration crisis is set to dominate a summit in Vienna of leaders from the western Balkans region on Thursday that will also be attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country expects to take in 800,000 migrants this year.
The passage via the western Balkans has now become one of the main ways into the EU for the several hundreds of thousands of migrants entering the bloc this year, in Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.
While many refugees are fleeing war, nearly half of those in Germany come from conflict-free Kosovo and Albania.
Merkel wants to use the conference to find out why "so many thousands of people are coming from these countries", her spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
- 'Humanitarian disaster' -
Some 102,000 migrants arrived in the EU via Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro or Kosovo between January and July this year, versus just 8,000 for the same period in 2014, according to EU border agency Frontex.
Summit host Austria, which borders Hungary and fellow "front line" state Italy, will a five-point plan at the conference.
It involves doing more to tackle people-trafficking gangs, a "fairer" distribution of refugees around the EU, greater security cooperation, helping the countries where the migrants come from and a "pan-European asylum strategy".
"It's a humanitarian disaster, a disaster for the European Union as a whole, and there is a pressing need for us to focus on the situation in the western Balkans," Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said earlier.
His office confirmed that Hungary would not be involved in the conference, but did not specify why.
On Monday, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, urged a unified European response.
© 2015 AFP