Deep divisions persist within the European Union as thousands of distraught refugees arriving from war-torn countries, mainly Syria, continued to head towards Western Europe via the continent’s southern frontiers.
The French foreign minister on Monday criticised Hungary for its move to erect a fence on its border to stop people as Germany and Britain joined in to call for action to defend the “dignity” of refugees ahead of fresh emergency talks on September 14.
The three Western European nations have pressed for better processing of refugees arriving in southern Europe, as countries such as Greece, Italy, and Hungary have struggled to cope with the influx of refugees. Some 300,000 people have crossed this year alone.
Hungary is part of Europe, which has values, and we do not respect those values by putting up fences that we wouldn't even use for animals.
In an interview with French radio on Sunday, Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said the measure was “extremely harsh. Hungary is part of Europe, which has values, and we do not respect those values by putting up fences that we wouldn’t even use for animals”.
Fabius also called the attitude of “a certain number of European countries, particularly in the east” who oppose a quota scheme for the distribution of refugees across EU member states “scandalous”. He did not name the countries targeted by that remark.
EU member states have differed on ways to tackle the escalating refugee crisis in previous meetings.
“Europe needs to stop being moved and start moving,” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said, calling again for a fairer distribution of refugees among the 28 member states.
The interior ministers of France, the UK, and Germany, stressed the need to set up “hot spots” in Greece and Italy by the year’s end to ensure refugees are fingerprinted and registered, allowing authorities to quickly identify those in need of protection.
Meanwhile, Hungary, the gateway to the EU from Eastern Europe, is hoping to finish erecting a 175km razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia.
Hungary later on Sunday lashed out at Fabius, accusing him of “shocking and groundless judgements”.
Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s foreign minister, said that the French embassy representative would be summoned over Fabius’ remarks.
The vast majority of the refugees entering Hungary, which is also a member of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, are bound for more prosperous EU countries such as Germany and Sweden.
“A good European is one who keeps the rules of Europe,” Szijjarto said.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Budapest, said hundreds of refugees were now stranded in the capital with nowhere to go.
“Hungary’s government is ignoring all criticism of how it’s handling this crisis. It stands accused of stripping away the rights of refugees and it is preparing a raft of new legislation which could mean thousands of refugees are sent back to Serbia.
At a park in the centre of the Serbian capital, Belgrade, more and more people were arriving by the hour. They get something to eat, rest a little and prepare for the next leg of their journey into Hungary.
Many refugees say the journey to Serbia had been relatively problem free, they do, however, fear what awaits them at the Hungarian border.
“Other people who went ahead of us were told by Hungarian officials that if they didn’t give a fingerprint, they would be hit and thrown in jail. Now we are scared to go to Hungary,” said Lokman, a Syrian refugee.