Hungary seals border to migrants as EU launches new reception centre

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Hungary will seal its border with Croatia to migrants at midnight (2200 GMT), Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Friday, forcing Slovenia to prepare for a wave of detoured asylum seekers and others desperately trying to reach Western Europe.

Hungary’s decision came after an emergency meeting of the national security council, the country’s MTI news agency reported.

The regular border points will remain open, though with stricter controls, Szijjarto said.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s conservative government built a fence laced with razor wire along its 175-kilometre border with Serbia in mid-September to curb the influx of migrants, mostly refugees from the Middle East.

The migrants on the so-called Balkan route then turned west in Serbia and headed for Croatia, whose authorities redirected them to Hungary.

Hungary then erected a fence along its 300-kilometre border with Croatia, 200 kilometres of which are marked off by rivers, and decided to seal it after the EU summit on Thursday.

The migrants could next attempt to reach Western Europe by continuing west through Croatia and passing Slovenia, then Austria.

Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, but it is not a member of the 26-nation, border-free Schengen zone that Hungary and Slovenia belong to.

Slovenia stepped up preparations for an accelerated influx of migrants in recent days and, according to latest police figures, presently has room to house 7,500 people, the STA news agency reported.

Prime Minister Miro Cerar said that securing Slovenia’s border with Croatia was another priority, with the Interior Ministry expected to announce plans later Friday.

The people from the Middle East have been arriving along the Balkan route at a sharply accelerated pace this year.

According to figures the International Organization for Migration (IOM) released Friday, 473,000 landed in Greece this year, mostly after a dangerous ride from the Turkish coast to Aegean islands, from where they are ferried to Athens.

Virtually all continued north and west, across Macedonia and Serbia, with the majority hoping to reach Germany and seek asylum there, Other favoured destinations are France and Sweden.

Aiming to regulate the influx, the EU on Friday launched its first Greek migration “hotspot” – a beefed-up reception and registration centre for new arrivals – on the island of Lesbos.

Located just a few kilometres off the coast of Turkey, Lesbos is the main arrival point for migrants and asylum seekers – mostly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis fleeing violence in their countries – striving to reach Western Europe.

“This first hotspot now operates on Lesbos … it is an important start, but we have a long way ahead of us,” said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who was visiting the island.

EU border agency Frontex, the police and justice organizations Europol and Eurojust, and the European Asylum Support Office are supposed to work with local authorities at the so-called hotspots to swiftly identify, register and fingerprint incoming migrants.

The EU has opened two of a planned total of 11 hotspot locations in Greece and Italy as the bloc struggles to deal with the unprecedented influx of people.

According to IOM, there have been 3,117 recorded deaths on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean toward Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain so far this year – nearly as many as in the entire 2014.

Hundreds of people have also been killed in traffic accidents and botched smuggling attempts as they travel by land.

On Thursday, Bulgarian border police fatally shot a presumed Afghan refugee from a group of 54 that illegally crossed from Turkey. The circumstances of the incident were not fully clarified.

On the other side of Europe, a person was killed Friday by a freight train in the Eurotunnel. The tunnel, which connects France and Great Britain running under the English Channel, is a common passage for people trying to reach Britain illegally.

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