In one of the worst bursts of violence that this tense refugee summer has seen, Hungarian riot police responded on Wednesday to rocks, taunts and small fires set by agitated migrants at the border crossing here with water cannons, head-cracking batons and both tear gas and pepper spray.
Although the word was quickly spreading along the migrant trail that heading toward Croatia from Serbia was a better bet than trying to push through the heavily guarded border into Hungary, hundreds of straggling refugees continued to turn up at the crossing here in hopes that Hungary would change its mind and let them through.
But Hungary did not change its mind — prompting a grim demonstration of what can happen when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.
And the demonstration is likely to continue as more migrants and refugees try to escape war and poverty in their homelands and find a new life in a continent that cannot agree on what to do with them. Already, the migrant trail was adapting, finding new ways to reach western Europe.
Tension had been building through the afternoon. About 2,500 migrants had set up camp along the narrow, two-lane road leading to the small crossing here — nothing more than a cluster of battered buildings and two lines of fence, topped with razor wire.
On the Serbian side of the green fence that marked the border zone was a squalid encampment of tents, swirling trash, wailing children and a few Serbian police officers, watching the chaos unfold. On the Hungarian side, beyond a second fence, were hundreds of police officers, some with protective shields and full riot gear, others in crisp uniforms and red caps, standing in formation and ignoring the crowds peeking at them.
One young man held up an orange sign reading “Right to Travel.” Others read, “Europe, your humanity is lost” and “Hungaria Please Help Us.”
The crowd had been told that, as of Tuesday, when new refugee laws went into effect in Hungary, migrants would not be allowed across the border if they had not been fingerprinted and approved, and that crossing the border illegally became a major offense punishable with years in prison.
But having gotten this far from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other desperate countries, they grasped at hopes that the Hungarians would relent — just as they did when a huge migrant encampment sprouted outside the main train station in Budapest this month.
Aid workers moved through the crowd, trying to persuade the migrants to pull back and give Croatia a try, and many said that they were about to give up and follow that advice.
SOURCE: RICK LYMAN and HELENE BIENVENU
The New York Times