IOM describes Hungary’s border fence as a ‘subsidy to the smugglers’

Hungary's first border fence, built in 2015. [Reuters]

Hungary is exacerbating the problem of people-smuggling with its plan to build a barrier to restrict the flow of migrants and refugees into the country, the International Organization for Migration said on Friday.

Hungary, which is part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen travel zone, is building a 3.5-metre high fence along its 175-km (110-mile) border with Serbia, taking a hard line on what right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán says is a threat to European security, prosperity and identity.

The IOM says 1,500-2,000 are taking the route through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to Hungary every day and that there is “a real possibility” the flow could rise to 3,000 daily.

“Our view on the wall building is that this is a roundabout subsidy to the smugglers. If you create a barrier, they will just charge the people they’re transporting more money to get around that barrier,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a UN briefing in Geneva.

>>Read: As migrants head north, Hungary decries ‘humiliating’ EU policy

“Countries do this all the time to please a domestic constituency – it looks tough, it looks proactive, it looks like you’re taking seriously people’s concerns that there are too many migrants. So they build a wall. We have decades of experience to show that that has not stopped the problem as they perceive it.”

Highlighting the tragic human costs of the large-scale smuggling of migrants and refugees into Europe, Austrian police found 71 dead migrants, including four children, in a parked truck on Thursday. Hungarian police arrested four people over the case on Friday.

Bulgarian-Hungarian ring?

An Austrian police chief said there were “signs” that a Bulgarian-Hungarian trafficker ring was behind the deaths. Of the three people arrested in Hungary, one was Bulgarian-Lebanese, another Bulgarian and the third of Hungarian nationality.

Magdelena Majkowska-Tomkin, an official at the IOM office in Hungary, said the people in the truck had come via the Western Balkan route and had reached the supposed ‘safety’ of the Schengen zone.

“They have resorted to smugglers as no other means of transport – such as train or bus – is available to them, as they routinely are taken off the trains and buses bound for Austria and Germany from Hungary.” 

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