HORGOS, Serbia (AP) — Baton-wielding Hungarian riot police unleashed tear gas and water cannons against hundreds of migrants Wednesday after they broke through a razor-wire fence and tried to surge into the country from Serbia. Crying children fled the acrid smoke and dozens of people were injured in the chaos.
With their path blocked, hundreds of other asylum-seekers turned to a longer, more arduous path to Western Europe through Croatia, where officials said 1,300 had arrived in a single day — a number that was sure to grow.
On the sealed border into Hungary, frustrated men — many of them war refugees from Syria and Iraq — hurled rocks and plastic water bottles at the helmeted riot police as they chanted “Open” Open!” in English. Children and women cried as the young men, their faces wrapped in scarves, charged toward the police through thick smoke from tear gas and tires set on fire by the crowd.
“We fled wars and violence and did not expect such brutality and inhumane treatment in Europe,” shouted an Iraqi, Amir Hassan, his eyes red from tear gas and his hair and clothing soaked after being hit by blasts of water cannon spray.
“Shame on you, Hungarians,” he shouted pointing in the direction of the shielded Hungarian policemen who were firing volleys of tear gas canisters directly into the crowd.
Around him, women screamed and wailed, covering their faces with scarves as they poured bottled water into their sobbing children’s eyes to relieve the stinging. Children gasped from the gas; blood streamed down the face of one man as he ran from the melee, carrying a small child. People fainted from the noxious plumes of tear gas, including one woman who collapsed while holding a baby.
At least two people were seriously injured and 200 to 300 others received medical care for tear gas inhalation and injuries such as cuts, bruises and burns, said Dr. Margit Pajor, who treated people at a medical center in Kanjiza, Serbia.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “shock” at the behavior of Hungarian police, calling it unacceptable. Referring to Syria, he said: “People facing barrel bombs and brutality in their country will continue to seek life in another.”
Hungarian authorities insisted they acted legitimately in self-defense, describing the migrants as violent and dangerous.
“We will employ all legal means to protect Hungary’s border’s security,” said Gyorgy Bakondi, homeland security adviser to Prime Minister Viktor Orban. “We will not permit violent, armed, aggressive attackers to enter.”
The ugly developments in Europe’s migrant crisis took place after some of those massed in Serbia broke through a gate. They and hundreds of others had grown desperate after Hungary sealed off its border with Serbia with a razor-wire fence the day before to stop the huge numbers of migrants entering Hungary, which lies on a popular route to Western Europe.
More than 200,000 have entered Hungary this year alone, turning the country into one of the main entry points into Europe for the rising numbers of people fleeing war and persecution in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
Orban said Wednesday he plans to also build stretches of fence along the border with Croatia. A day earlier his government said it was also extending the fence along a stretch of its border with Romania. Both Croatia and Romania, like Hungary, are members of the EU, and the moves are straining ties with those allies and herald the unusual prospect of fortress-like barriers between EU states.
After the clashes with police, chaotic scenes also erupted as some private groups delivered aid in trucks. People fought over food, water and clothing, with no Serbian policemen or anyone else to establish order.
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