BELGRADE – Hundreds of refugees from Asia and Middle East marched through the Serbian capital of Belgrade on their way to Hungarian border, launching a hunger strike to demand free passage to western Europe.
A group of migrant men, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, consisting of 200-300 people, according different estimates, marched through Belgrade’s city center and crossed the bridge to the Novi Beograd district, escorted by a police car.
There were no women or children in the group which started the march to the Hungarian border, about 200 kilometers to the north, according to a Ruptly producer at the scene.
The situation remains calm and there are no tensions between migrants and police, the producer added. Smaller groups of migrants also marched to the border with Hungary in the previous days.
A police car was deployed to the scene to accompany the group, mainly for traffic security. “We are here to guarantee their safety and prevent accidents en route,” an unnamed police officer told Reuters.
Earlier on Friday, the group staged a hunger strike in Belgrade demanding Hungary open its borders and allow them to travel further into the EU. The hunger strikers left food brought by the Serbian aid groups untouched, according to NewsGram.
The migrants that joined the strike also stage a sitting protest in Belgrade holding placards that read “Open the border,” “We are responsible global citizens,” “No to violence,” “Stop wars if you want to stop refugees” and “Prove that humanity is still alive.”
According to a Ruptly producer at the scene, they later ended the hunger strike.
“They want to go to Hungary, they want borders open,” Vladimir Sjekloca, a manager of Belgrade’s Asylum Info Centre told Reuters, adding that “most of them spent the night in the park.”
Similar sitting hunger strikes were already launched by refugees and migrants in Serbia in 2015, after Hungary erected a razor wire fence on its border with Serbia and strictly limited the inflow of refugees and migrants.
At that time, the protesters refused to take food and water, also demanding Hungary open its borders, with men, women and children taking part in the protests.
About 3,000 migrants remain in Serbia at the moment, Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia’s minister for social affairs, told Tanjug news agency on Friday, stressing that “Serbia cannot allow that” and it “will not suffer because EU countries cannot find a joint solution.” However, he did not announce any specific measures to deal with the situation.
More than 100,000 migrants already passed through Serbia this year, while, in 2015, the number amounted to 650,000 people, as reported by Reuters.
In the meantime, Hungary launched a media campaign aimed at rejecting EU refugee quotas ahead of an October referendum on the issue. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban emphasized “an obvious connection” between the massive inflow of refugees and migrants and the surge of terrorist attacks in Europe on Thursday, speaking to reporters after a meeting of the Visegrad Four group of central European leaders in Warsaw.
The governmental media campaign also draws public attention to the links between the influx of refugees and migrants and the rise of the number of sexual crimes against women in Europe.
The Hungarian opposition already denounced the campaign as xenophobic and racist.
Alongside with Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, Hungary is one of the EU member states that have been highly skeptical of Brussels’ handling of the migrant crisis. In September 2015, it erected a razor wire fence on its border with Serbia to stem the refugee flow and a month later it built another such fence on the border with Croatia.
In June, Hungary allowed police to send back all illegal immigrants detained within eight kilometers from the fence and also further limited the number of daily entries for migrants to 30.
In October, Hungarians will vote on Brussels’ plans to distribute some 160,000 refugees and migrants among the 28 EU member states, a ruling which was passed last September. Hungary was among four nations which voted against the step and has legally challenged it.
In the meantime, Austria, which is one of the preferred destinations for refugees and migrants, also plant to build a fence on border with Hungary and is now in the process of gaining permission from all private landowners.
The unending massive inflow of migrants seems to have provoked growing fears among Europeans as almost 60 percent of people in the EU associate it with an increasing threat of terror acts, a recent Pew poll says.