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Hungary to Build (Another) Border Fence

In the Trump era, Hungary is doubling down on its hardline immigration policies.

SZEGED, HUNGARY - JULY 16: A Hungarian soldier stands next to the first portion of a temporary fence the Hungarian military is erecting on its border to Serbia in an effort to keep out refugees on July 16, 2015 at Morahalom near Szeged, Hungary. Hungary has become one of the main crossing points, especially for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, who arrive to Europe via Greece and travel through Serbia and Hungary on their way to countries in northern Europe like Germany and Sweden. (Photo by Arpad Kurucz/Getty Images)
SZEGED, HUNGARY - JULY 16: A Hungarian soldier stands next to the first portion of a temporary fence the Hungarian military is erecting on its border to Serbia in an effort to keep out refugees on July 16, 2015 at Morahalom near Szeged, Hungary. Hungary has become one of the main crossing points, especially for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, who arrive to Europe via Greece and travel through Serbia and Hungary on their way to countries in northern Europe like Germany and Sweden. (Photo by Arpad Kurucz/Getty Images)
SZEGED, HUNGARY - JULY 16: A Hungarian soldier stands next to the first portion of a temporary fence the Hungarian military is erecting on its border to Serbia in an effort to keep out refugees on July 16, 2015 at Morahalom near Szeged, Hungary. Hungary has become one of the main crossing points, especially for refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, who arrive to Europe via Greece and travel through Serbia and Hungary on their way to countries in northern Europe like Germany and Sweden. (Photo by Arpad Kurucz/Getty Images)

The Hungarian government wants to make doubly sure no unwanted persons enter its territory en route to Western Europe.

On Thursday, the government announced it would begin construction of a fence along the country’s border with Serbia -- the same 109-mile border it has already fenced off. The government also said earlier this month it plans to build a 400-bed temporary housing facility for asylum-seekers out of shipping containers.

The measures are injecting even more tension into Hungary’s already strained relationship with the European Union, which Prime Minister Viktor Orban believes is soft on immigration.

The Hungarian government wants to make doubly sure no unwanted persons enter its territory en route to Western Europe.

On Thursday, the government announced it would begin construction of a fence along the country’s border with Serbia — the same 109-mile border it has already fenced off. The government also said earlier this month it plans to build a 400-bed temporary housing facility for asylum-seekers out of shipping containers.

The measures are injecting even more tension into Hungary’s already strained relationship with the European Union, which Prime Minister Viktor Orban believes is soft on immigration.

Janos Lazar, Orban’s chief of staff, billed the new fence as “a second line of defense” against the inflow of migrants and refugees into Hungary. After the government’s first fence was erected in the summer of 2015, immigration to and transit through Hungary slowed to a comparative trickle.

But that wasn’t not good enough, apparently. Last month, Orban’s chief security advisor cited 1,142 attempts to illegally enter the country along the Serbian border in 2017 alone. And Lazar predicted that, without a second border wall, a significant number of illegal immigrants may arrive this year. About 7,000 asylum-seekers are waiting in Serbia for permission to enter Hungary, according to the BBC. The government processes only 10 asylum applications each day.

To cover the costs of the new fence and the container-lot-cum-housing-facility, which government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs adamantly denies is a “detention center,” the interior ministry budget will be increased by $130.7 million. But raising that money in the debt markets could be a tall order. The country’s foreign and sovereign obligations have ballooned under Orban.

Hiring enough guards to man the second fence could also be a problem. The government is reportedly having trouble staffing an auxiliary “border hunter” force created in 2015 to relieve national police of the burden of patrolling the new fence, despite a flashy recruitment drive. Applicants are failing to meet quality standards en masse.

This, however, is arguably not the worst news for asylum-seekers to come out of Hungary this month. On Feb. 7, the Hungarian government said such people would be held in camps along the southern border while their asylum applications are pending. “Immigrants cannot move around the country freely,” Lazar confirmed.

Taken together, these moves cement Hungary’s status as a bête noir for EU officials in Brussels seeking to craft bloc-wide immigration policy. Amnesty International called the new restrictions “a new low in Hungary’s race to the bottom on asylum-seekers and refugees.”

In his annual state of the nation speech on Feb. 10, Orban proclaimed, “we were black sheep, but now we are a success story.” The year ahead, he said, would be defined by a struggle “against globalists.”

And, evidently, against people seeking asylum in Hungary.

Photo credit: Arpad Kurucz/Getty Images

Noah Buyon is a digital intern.

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