Hungarian border police unleashed a barrage — including tear gas, pepper spray and a water cannon — against refugees who broke through a razor-wire fence Wednesday along the Serbian border before stampeding back in a panic.
Some women even held babies above their heads in a desperate appeal for mercy.
“I don’t know what to do, stay here or try some other way to cross the border?” Ahmed Sami, a Syrian dad, told the Associated Press.
“We walked and traveled for hundreds, thousands of kilometers only to be stopped meters from the European Union. My wife and children cannot stand on their feet anymore. This is tragic,” he said.
The violence erupted a day after Hungary shut its border with Serbia, saying it had to protect the European Union’s external border, and began arresting refugees trying to enter the country.
A total of 519 migrants who tried to cross the border illegally had been arrested so far Wednesday as authorities launched 46 criminal prosecutions and convicted an Iraqi of “illegally crossing the border” — the first conviction based on the new law.
A judge ordered the man to pay the equivalent of $70 in court costs, expelled him from Hungary — probably back to Serbia — and banned him from returning for a year. The man said he was unaware of the new law, but the judge said: “Ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse anybody.”
Migrants in Serbia have started entering neighboring Croatia after facing the draconian new measures in Hungary. But that exposes them to a deadly new danger — former mine fields along the country’s front line in its 1991-95 war.
According to Croatia’s Mine Action Center, there are still 193 square miles of suspicious areas throughout the country — but all have been clearly marked.
Miljenko Vahtaric, an official with the mine center, said there are five suspicious spots in the border area with Serbia. He said de-mining teams have been working in the area for months.
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said his country is ready to accept migrants “regardless of their religion and the color of their skin” and will help them go to Germany, Scandinavia or other destinations in Europe.
Hungary’s foreign minister said the fence along the border with Serbia will remain as long as large numbers of migrants keep trying to enter the country.
“Only a physical obstacle” can help Hungary protect its borders against the migrants who enter Greece before heading north, said Minister Peter Szijjarto.
He called on the EU to send forces to help Greece control the influx, saying his country would make a “massive contribution.”
Some refugees who made it to Austria before the barriers went up were elated upon reaching Germany.
Mohammed Al Zain, 22, an economics student from Aleppo, arrived in the German town of Freilassing from Austria after being stuck waiting 12 hours for his train to get permission to cross the border.
Tightly holding his 7-year-old brother, he said border guards “told us, ‘Welcome to Germany’ and we are very happy right now.”