Every Day Is A Struggle On Both Sides – A Report From The Hungarian Border Barrier

A recently added top section of the border security barrier in Hungary, near the Serbian border. (Photo: FactRefuge / Mariska Mediahuis)

Every night, thousands of police officers risk their lives by patrolling the Hungarian border barrier that protects Schengen countries from the arrival of illegal immigrants. FactRefuge got the scoop on an exclusive tour of the border area of the Balkan route and some surveillance centers, where it can be seen how officers are pelted and attacked several times a night with axes and firearms. “Many officers have psychological trauma” is just one recurring sentence we heard on the border.

“Of all the migrants we pick up, 99.9 percent have no papers with them,” the commander of border control in Csongrád-Csanád county, Southern Hungary tells us. Colonel Levente Baukó then goes on to say “They do have the latest iPhone, money and branded clothes. But no passport, ID, driver’s license or other material that can prove where they come from. They all say they come from war zone Syria, but we can’t verify that.”

For the first time since Hungary began protecting the Schengen countries’ external borders with fences against illegal migrants in 2015, a European medium – the international platform FactRefuge – is getting the scoop on an exclusive interview with a police officer from part of the Balkan route and an exclusive tour of the meter-high fences that stand on the border between Hungary and Serbia.

 


 

Police colonel Levente Baukó sits at a long table in an office near the border crossing in Röszke, Southern Hungary. He is responsible for the 61-km border between Hungary and Serbia in Csongrád-Csanád county, where there are three border posts and the Tisza River must also be guarded. On the wall hangs a large screen. On it appear the images of night cameras, heat-detecting cameras and drones that monitor day and night the border line between the area outside Europe and Hungary.

“Every year the attacks by the illegal immigrants become more violent. The human smugglers are also using weapons more often now, because they want to make money at any cost,” Baukó says as behind him the most gruesome images pass by on the screen.

The projection screen shows a man standing on a high ladder against the fence, on Serbia’s side. Around him stand about 20 young dark-skinned men around 20-30 years old. They are wearing balaclavas and scarves wrapped over their heads. Policemen who have spotted the men through CCTV footage arrive in a jeep. Immediately, the immigrants on the Serbian side begin pelting the Hungarian policemen. They have apparently accumulated a whole supply of large sticks, logs and huge stones: on the ground around the men they are laid out like ammunition stockpiles. The attackers hard-handedly hurl sticks, logs and stones over the fence toward the policemen. Every second a stick or stone lands on the narrow road where the police car is parked. The man on the ladder is handed a tree stump more than a meter and a half long, with which he tries to hit the officers over the fence. When the police do not leave, he climbs down the ladder and uses it as a weapon to beat the police with it. The attack lasts for 15 minutes.

 

 

“A few hours later they try again in another place and we know we have to go out,” the policeman explains. “And that every night. The officers become traumatized. They get help from psychologists because they are brutally attacked several times every night. Again and again.”

Baukó shows a large parking lot at a border post a few meters away from the steel fence. The appearance of the hundreds of vehicles is shocking. Almost all the cars are badly damaged: holes in windows and doors, scratches and dents everywhere, windows out. Most are secured with iron cages. As if they have been driving around in a war zone.

 

Vehicles of the Hungarian Police damaged in attacks by human smugglers on the Hungarian-Serbian Border in May 2023.
Vehicles of the Hungarian Police damaged in attacks by human smugglers on the Hungarian-Serbian Border in May 2023. (Photo: FactRefuge / Mariska Mediahuis)

 

“Since August 2022, we have seen an increase in the number of illegal immigrants,” says the police officer walking along the fence, meanwhile greeting the patrolling colleagues.

In the first half of 2023 alone, Hungarian border police were able to apprehend six times as many illegal immigrants as in 2022.

“We fortunately have good cooperation with the corps of the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Serbia and Turkey. Turkey is even sending manpower to help check cars at border controls,” Bauko explains. “In reaction to recent changes in the modus operandi, we have raised the fences by 1.4 meters and made them 2 meters wider, so you can’t climb over them as easily. We also put stronger material between them, so it’s harder to cut through.”

 

Police officer in riot gear patrolling the Hungarian-Serbian border near Röszke in May 2023. (Photo: FactRefuge / Mariska Mediahuis)
Police officer in riot gear patrolling the Hungarian-Serbian border near Röszke in May 2023. (Photo: FactRefuge / Mariska Mediahuis)

 

Indeed, the fences look newer at the top: the last meters shine in the blazing sun, above the rusty iron of the first meters of the fence. “In addition, there is more manpower on hand at times when more immigrants are trying to make the crossing.”
The agents are police and military from all over Hungary, who have been rounded up from their provincial towns and villages, sometimes all the way on the other side of Hungary, to help protect Europe from the illegal immigrants trying to enter the EU via the Balkan route. Once they reach Hungary, they travel straight to Western Europe. “Immigrants don’t want to stay in Hungary, they want to go to Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Norway. Where they hope to get a lot of money and housing. That is what they are led to believe by the people smugglers who want to make money from them.”

 

Police colonel Levente Baukó standing in front of the border security fence on the Hungarian border near Röszke. (Photo: FactRefuge / Mariska Mediahuis)
Police colonel Levente Baukó standing in front of the border security fence on the Hungarian border near Röszke. (Photo: FactRefuge / Mariska Mediahuis)

 

Hungarian policemen risk their lives and leave their families to protect Western Europe from illegal immigrants trying to reach Western Europe via the Balkan route, sometimes half a day’s travel away from their homes, while receiving no financial aid from the European Union.

Why are Hungarian police doing this? “We belong to the Schengen countries and we abide by the Schengen treaty: migrants must seek asylum in the first safe neighbouring country,” the officer explained. “We just follow the law as best we can. All police officers have sworn an oath to do their job, even if they risk their lives to protect other countries in Western Europe.”

Sometimes Hungarian police also offer assistance to migrants. Baukó: “If a child has lost his parents during the journey [over the border], for example, or part of a family can no longer find the rest of his family. Then we use our helicopters to locate the other members of the families. Whether they are illegal or not illegal migrants does not matter to us then. Everyone does have the right to humane, ethical help.”

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