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Last Updated: Friday, 30 April, 2004, 02:06 GMT 03:06 UK
The EU's new southern frontier
By Alexandra Fouché
BBC News Online, Szeged, southern Hungary

Driving in the southern Hungarian countryside, lush green plains stretch out before the eye - this is the country's agricultural heartland.

Yet this peaceful setting is the new stage for the fight against illegal migration in the enlarged EU.

Hungary has one of the longest borders to police in the new EU - some 1,100 km - and has the highest number of countries around it, many of which will remain outside the union after 1 May.

Roszke border crossing
For many, the big EU adventure starts here

On the stretch along its border with Serbia is the main crossing at Roszke which will soon be the end point of a new motorway from Budapest, and is a gleaming example of what EU money can buy.

Buildings and equipment at the post have been updated, they have the latest document-scanning technology, microscopes, digital cameras, and information sharing is improving all the time.

And it all seems to work - the number of illegal migrants coming through his post has been steadily declining over the last few years, says the post's commander, Deputy-Colonel Janos Zakar of the Border Guards.

After 1 May, "the main change will be that there will be lanes for EU-passport holder so we can process them more quickly," he says.

At Roszke, they see mainly economic migrants with fake papers trying to cross the border, from states of the former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, or hiding in vans or trucks, the commander says.

Foot crossings

Migrants from further afield tend to try their luck along the so-called Green border, or open border area - where they can cross on foot.

The commander says his post's improved efficiency and that of others along the border explains the drop in numbers. He says there is also a view that most people who were waiting to get into the EU have already done so.

Further along the border at the Kelebia railway crossing, it is the same story - new equipment, migrant catches going down as the system becomes more and more efficient.

This is also where patrols of the Green area are co-ordinated from - this particular post looks after an 18-km stretch and also patrols the area immediately behind it.

The task seems almost impossible - a vast expanse of meadow is all that separates the Serb side from the Hungarian side. A so-called technical ditch is supposed to stop cars from driving across.

But most people are likely to try on foot. This is where the guards under the command of Kelebia's Lieutenant Gyula Csipo come into action.

Working closely with local police and local people, they continuously patrol the area on the look-out for migrants trying to cross the border. They have the help of various types of sensor equipment which can detect movement, metal, body heat.

This last piece of equipment - in a mobile unit - alone helps to achieve some 70% of all catches.

"It also has a deterring effect, it scares people away," Lt Csipo says. As a result, he says, "illegal migration has almost stopped" on his patch.

Numbers at this post have been going down over the years: 500 people caught in 2002, 290 in 2003 and just 11 in 2004 so far.

And this is also the case with the border crossing next to Kelebia which has recorded considerable drops over recent years, he says. Like his colleague in Roszke, he agrees that most people who want to enter the EU illegally are probably already inside the union.

Missing refugees

But at the Bekescsaba refugee camp, where both asylum seekers and refugees are processed, it is a different story.

Debrecen: capacity 1,500
Bicske: capacity 500-600
Bekescsaba: capacity 300, soon to be 400
The head of the centre, Bela Szekely, believes the number of people arriving at his centre is going to increase drastically over the next few months, if not weeks.

His centre is one of three in Hungary and the smallest. Thanks to EU money its capacity of 300 is being brought up to 400.

From his point of view, the number of people processed has been going down recently, but he is expecting hundreds to be back in Hungary in the next few months.

This is because as of 1 May, under the Dublin convention, countries such as Austria will be able to send back illegal immigrants they catch entering their country illegally if they can prove they have entered the union through Hungary, he says.

"I heard that Austria was planning to send back some 2,000 people," he says.

It could then take months to process these people who meanwhile remain in Hungary.

The other problem is the fact that once people at the centre have applied, they are free to come and go as they please, and some of them disappear to continue their journey to the life they have dreamt of.

"Fewer and fewer people disappear, but last year 600 people went missing, and there is no way of tracking them," he says.

Once these people have disappeared there is not a lot that can be done.

"When they go missing, we tell the immigration services. But they have not committed a criminal offence."

Obviously the authorities are worried, but only five people disappeared illegally last month for example, he says.

Cases like these are likely to multiply and will keep coming back again and again.

But in one case in Austria, one individual was caught trying to enter the country some seven times, he says.


For one family though, the future is looking bright.

Pervin Hussain, 26, and her family have been granted asylum in Hungary.

Having fled Syria to escape a forced marriage with a relative, Pervin met her partner Mourad in Turkey, with whom she now has a one-year-old son, Miran.

Pervin Hussain and one-year-old son Miran
Pervin Hussain and her son have been allowed to stay in Hungary
They left Turkey because Mourad is Kurd and "had problems in Turkey", she says, and went on in search of a safer life in Europe.

They paid $4,000 to a smuggler to get them to Europe.

"The trip was very difficult; we travelled by car and truck for two days. We also walked a lot, through forests, in the rain, we could hear dogs, we were really scared.

"I am not sure what our route was - Bulgaria maybe, or through Romania or the former Yugoslavia. I asked the driver, but he wouldn't say.

"Then he said: 'Get off, walk this way and go find a village'.

"So we did, we walked for about 4-5 hours. We found a village. I asked a woman in a supermarket where we were, she said it was Hungary. Then we asked for the police and asked for asylum."

Now they have been granted leave to remain, they will be looking for work - "any work" - and learn Hungarian, a difficult language.

"I am very happy to be Hungary. But it is not my dream to be here [in Bekescsaba]. We may go to Budapest. I would like to find some rest, but the problems are not over yet."

EU enlargement quiz: Hungary
15 Apr 04  |  Europe


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