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Hungarian riot police use water cannon against refugees
Hungarian riot police in the border town of Röszke have used water cannon and teargas against refugees wanting to enter the country from Serbia.
The refugees were on the other side of a razor-wire fence built by Hungary's rightwing government and completed in tandem with the introduction of tough new laws on Tuesday aiming to keep refugees out.
Hungarian police issued a statement accusing "aggressive" migrants of breaking through the fence, but a United Nations official at the scene said the barrier did not appear to have been breached.
A Reuters reporter in Röszke said hundreds of riot police, backed by special anti-terrorist units with armoured vehicles and water cannon, advanced towards a crowd of refugees.
A spokesman for the Hungarian government said the migrants were "armed with pipes and sticks". Television pictures showed people in Horgo, on the Serbian side, throwing plastic water bottles at rows of helmeted riot police and chanting demands that the border be reopened.
Following the closure of the Hungarian border, increasing numbers of refugees have made for Croatia. Until this week, more than 170,000 people this year had been able to walk freely into Hungary, and continue on to northern Europe.
Hungarian authorities said on Wednesday that they have arrested a total of 519 refugees under the new law that makes it a crime to cross the border anywhere other than at legal checkpoints.
Authorities have launched 46 criminal prosecutions and found an Iraqi man guilty, the first conviction based on the new laws.
A Syrian whose request for asylum in Hungary was rejected within minutes has claimed that officials made little attempt to investigate his background or gauge his level of risk, raising questions about Hungary's commitment to protecting refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war.
Zahir Habbal, a 29-year-old Syrian electrician, was one of the first refugees to try to navigate Hungary's asylum system after the closure of the country's southern border, and the prosecution of anyone trying to cross it through unofficial routes.
He was one of at least 16 applicants to be rejected on Tuesday, and he claimed that each person was turned down in up to 20 minutes, after a series of perfunctory questions about their country of origin and route to Hungary. "They didn't ask about my life," said Habbal, who claims he is a wanted man in Syria because of his involvement in anti-regime protests several years ago.
"It wasn't interesting to them. They said directly that I was rejected, and that I had to go back to Serbia. It took 10 to 20 minutes for everyone [to be rejected]."
Hungary's government spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, denied that Hungary had infringed anyone's rights by returning them to Serbia. He said that, since Serbia was a safe country, refugees should apply there, rather than in any other European country.
[Source: By Agencies in Röszke and Patrick Kingsley in Horgo, The Guardian, London, 16Sep15]
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