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Hungary Closes Border With Serbia To Migrants As Crisis Mounts

  • RFE/RL

Hungary has closed the main crossing point on its border with Serbia to migrants in the face of the continuing influx of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries.

The border was closed on September 15 as officials reported that a record 9,380 people had crossed into Hungary the previous day.

Hungarian police said that nine Syrians and seven Afghans had already been detained while trying to enter the country in violation of the new crossing rules.

One of the measures makes it a criminal offense, punishable by prison or deportation, to damage Hungary's newly erected border defenses, which mark a retreat from Schengen commitments on free movement among many EU states.

By midday on September 15, Hungary said it had detained 60 migrants under the new laws and plans to charge them.

Hungary on September 15 also declared a state of emergency in two of its southern counties bordering Serbia because of the migration crisis, giving special powers to police and other authorities.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany and Austria are calling for a special EU summit next week to discuss the migration crisis.

At a joint news conference in Berlin, Merkel said Germany, Austria, and Sweden could not handle the refugee crisis on their own.

WATCH: Chaos And Confusion As Hungarian Border Closes

Meanwhile, the Turkish Coast Guard on September 15 reported that at least 13 migrants, including four children, drowned while trying to reach Greece by sea from Turkey. More than 200 refugees were rescued in international waters after their boat sank.

Late on September 14, the European Union failed to agree on a plan to allocate some 120,000 refugees among member states according to binding quotas.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said after chairing a meeting of EU interior ministers that "it is premature for the council to take a decision today."

Asselborn said that "even though we are in urgent circumstances, we have to follow procedures."

Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic were among the EU states opposed to the quotas leading up to the emergency meeting.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said there had been "very heated debates" at the interior ministers' meeting in Brussels.

"The commission is determined to take action. We will need another council meeting in the coming days," he said.

A passport photo left behind by a migrant is seen among seaweed on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos.

A passport photo left behind by a migrant is seen among seaweed on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos.

The binding quotas can be passed by a qualified majority, rather than unanimously, under complex EU rules, but that would be a sign of disunity that the bloc has tried to avoid.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said there was "bitterness" over the fact that a unanimous vote was not possible at the emergency meeting and that a majority vote would have to be held later.

"Some countries apparently do not feel a responsibility of solidarity in the face of these big challenges. That has to change," he said. "Otherwise, we will have a big problem in Europe."

EU Vice President Frans Timmermans said the "numbers [being accepted] today are much too small" and warned of the growing risk to refugees as winter draws near.

The EU interior ministers had earlier adopted provisional measures on a program proposed in May by the European Council for the relocation of an additional 40,000 refugees who arrive in Greece and Italy during the next two years and are “in clear need of international protection.”

Under that program, the new host countries will receive 6,000 euros (about $6,800) for each refugee they accept.

Other measures still to be finalized after the Brussels meeting included the creation of an EU list of safe countries from which nationals are unlikely to qualify for asylum.

Ministers agreed that the list should include Balkan countries, but the inclusion of Turkey proved controversial because of a recent surge in violence against Turkey's Kurdish minority.

Before the impasse developed over binding quotas, European Council President Donald Tusk had said that he would summon EU leaders for an emergency summit if their interior ministers could not agree on a solution.

France supports the idea of quotas -- as does Germany, the main destination for many migrants.

The emergency relocation plan for a total of 160,000 refugees, unveiled by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on September 9, is aimed at dealing with Europe’s biggest influx of migrants and asylum seekers since World War II.

Since July, Hungary has become a point of entry into the EU for thousands of migrants each day who have been passing through Turkey into Greece before traveling along an overland Balkan route that crosses Macedonia and Serbia.

Most of those on the overland Balkan route are from Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters