Hungary closed the main migrant crossing with Serbia and more states imposed border checks Monday as the failure of EU ministers to agree how to share the burden of a flood of refugees deepened the crisis.
With Europe’s 20-year-old Schengen passport-free zone creaking under the pressure, Austria and Slovakia said they would follow economic powerhouse Germany’s lead in reinstating border controls to deal with the flow of people.
Poland said it was considering similar steps while the Netherlands said it would have “more patrols” on its frontiers.
Long traffic jams built up on the Germany-Austria border and refugees were left stranded on non-EU Serbia’s side of the frontier with Hungary in the latest chaotic scenes from the biggest such crisis since World War II.
Yet amid opposition from eastern states, EU ministers failed to reach agreement on a plan to share out 120,000 refugees and ease the burden on frontline states from the tide of people fleeing war zones like Syria and Afghanistan.
A day before Hungary has vowed to begin arresting illegal migrants, police fenced off a gap in the razor-wire barrier with Serbia that hardline Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government is racing to complete.
At the Roszke border crossing, several dozen migrants including many children, some in pushchairs, were stuck on the Serbian side of the border, with several women crying, after police shut the border, AFP journalists saw.
“We had heard the Hungarians were closing their border, but they told us it would be Tuesday,” cried Hassan, a Syrian in his thirties who is trying to reach Sweden.
The migrants were redirected to the official crossing around two kilometres (1.6 miles) away, from where they were being taken on buses to Roszke train station, officials said.
Hungary is on the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis, with almost 200,000 people travelling up from Greece through the western Balkans and entering the country this year, most of them seeking to travel on to economic powerhouse Germany.
Austria and Slovakia pounced on the U-turn by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government — which had previously said it would throw open its doors to Syrian refugees — to reinstate their own border checks.
“We will proceed as Germany did,” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said in Brussels.
Poland said it will impose border controls at the first sign of “any threat” while Netherland promised “more” patrols.