Return to Transcripts main page
Migrants Break Barrier at Hungary's Border; Riot Police Deploy Tear Gas, Water Cannon on Migrants; Migrants Blocked from Hungary Re-Route through Croatia; Hungarian Police Face Off against Protesters. Aired 10-1a ET
Aired September 16, 2015 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining us, I'm Robyn Curnow at the CNN Center. This is the INTERNATIONAL DESK.
And we want to take you straight to Serbia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW (voice-over): There you can see at the Hungarian border -- at the Hungarian-Serbian border, live pictures of an incident that appears to
be causing huge concerns in the area.
There you are. You have Hungarian police, riot police; we know they've been using tear gas and water cannon to control a crowd of
migrants. The CNN team there has been witnessing this incident in Serbia.
A helicopter, we understand, also has been flying overhead. This is a very tense situation, a tense situation amplified by weeks of tension on
that very border as migrants have been trying to cross over into Europe, using Serbia and Hungary as part of that route.
There you can see riot police moving in towards what appears to be a crowd throwing rocks. It's unclear. There you go. Water cannons, as
well. We do not have sound. But the pictures themselves tell a very clear story.
Ben Wedeman, our correspondent on the ground there, please tell us what you're seeing, what you're hearing.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well about half an hour ago we were up on the gate that separates Serbia and Hungary
and, of course, there's been a tense standoff for several hours there as people were pushing at the gate to try to get it to come down so they could
go into Hungary.
Now after a little while and it's still going on now, people are throwing bottles and apples and other objects in the direction of the
Serbian -- rather, the Hungarian special terrorism police, riot police.
And afterwards they fired back with tear gas and you can see a water cannon is now being fired as well.
Now, of course, among the crowd there are many children, many women who are very close to that area. So there are a lot of people who were
overcome with this tear gas, which is quite strong.
Now there are some Serbian police here but just a really small number. Nothing enough to handle this crowd at the moment.
And of course we've heard them all day, chanting at that gate. "Open the door, open the door."
And as far as the Serbian -- the Hungarian authorities go, that's simply not going to happen.
Now, there's a Hungarian helicopter in the sky -- and I think this one over here above us is probably a Serbian helicopter, as well -- just
trying to get an idea of what's going on on the ground.
But still I can see things being -- objects being thrown in the direction of the Hungarian police. And, yes, a very tense moment in this
day -- Robyn.
CURNOW: What's the understanding of the numbers here?
Ben, give us an understanding of the numbers.
How many migrants are they there?
How many police do you estimate are there?
WEDEMAN: As far as the migrants in this general area, there must be several thousand.
But when you come on the road that reaches this spot, I can see dozens of people walking along. So the numbers are constantly increasing. Now
some are in this area; there's an adjacent field in another border crossing not far from here, where other people are camped out.
As far as the numbers of the police go, on the Hungarian side, certainly those in the front line, riot police and other backup forces
probably number well over 100, perhaps 150. We don't know how many are actually in the back as well.
So a large number of people on this side and on the other side; obviously they've got enough equipment to keep the crowd back at the
moment. But there's no guarantee that that's going to continue -- Robyn.
CURNOW: Give us an understanding of the geography and the infrastructure as well, Ben. I mean we're seeing on Reuters, Hungarian
police say a group of what they call aggressive migrants broke through a border gate from Serbia and then were confronted by lines of riot police.
Just describe that for us, the actual layout of what we're looking at.
WEDEMAN: Well, at the end of this road, where you see -- perhaps (INAUDIBLE) gets out of the way, that's the water cannon of the Hungarian
police. So we're at about a distance of maybe 110 meters from that spot. That is where the gate --
WEDEMAN: -- was pushed open -- or rather pulled open -- by the migrants, the refugees who are in that area. And really, for a brief
period there was a -- only about 20 centimeters that separated the refugees and the migrants from the Hungarian police.
So a very small area; so small area, lots of people, when you start firing tear gas, it's not just the people in the front who were getting
affected by that. It's people way back, like where we are.
CURNOW: And you've spoken about the Hungarian police, that that is a Hungarian water cannon.
The Serbians, what is the situation with the Serbian authorities?
WEDEMAN: There's a handful of policemen, who seem to be keeping an eye on what's going on but not actually doing anything in trying to prevent
the situation from changing.
In fact, I see a group of policemen, about seven Hungarian policemen, further, about 25 meters back, further away from the gate than where we
are. Some of them put on gas masks when the tear gas was being fired. But on the Serbian side, they've taken a fairly, shall we say, nonaggressive
role in this action.
CURNOW: You've been in all sorts of situations in your career. You've seen things escalate, de-escalate.
What's your sense of the mood there right now?
WEDEMAN: Hold on.
OK. All right.
They fired more tear gas so people are sort of panicking at the moment. I don't know if we're still connected. Just stick with me.
CURNOW: You're connected, Ben, carry on.
WEDEMAN: You can see the tear gas is being fired.
OK, all right, I'll carry on. I'll carry on. All right. Yes, the tear gas has been fired. People are running.
This is one of the problems. A panic starts and we just try to do a little traffic to keep people from trampling us as well.
Of course -- OK, I can smell that tear gas now.
They're chanting, "Allahu Akbar," "God is great."
Many of the migrants and refugees, of course, are from Syria and Iraq. So people are moving back, trying to get away.
That's all right. No problem.
OK, OK, now definitely it's cleared up quite a lot. And then the tear gas is starting to affect us.
CURNOW: Are you going to need to take a break to sort out yourself?
I mean, if the tear gas affecting you?
Or -- you're on old hand at this stuff, Ben.
The question I asked you beforehand was the mood here. There's obviously fear. There's obviously --
WEDEMAN: The mood here is, yes, it's anger. It's anger because, of course, let's not forget some of these people have come from Afghanistan;
they've come from Iraq and Syria, from a very long way away. And, therefore, the idea that, after coming this far, they're stuck at this
border and can't move forward.
And it's compounded this anger, by the fact that -- by the fact that, of course, Hungary won't let them in because Hungary is not their final
Many of them will tell you, they want to go to Germany. They want to go to Austria. They want to go to Sweden. There's no -- no one has
expressed a desire to go to Hungary. So really they just want passage through.
And, of course, it's hot here. At night, it's cold. People are sleeping out in the open, sleeping in tents. We've seen that the supply of
water, the supply of food is very bad. There's not enough. Aid workers complain that they don't have the facilities they need to provide for these
Some of the people will come up to you and basically are asking us to find them a doctor because there's just a handful of people providing
So the reasons for anger and frustration are many. And, unfortunately, it doesn't seem that much is being done to alleviate the
humanitarian situation, let alone the fact that they can't move forward to where they wanted to go -- Robyn.
CURNOW: You see in the pictures, as your cameraman pans back to you, there are a lot of young men. I don't see any children and women and
families there. The Hungarians have said these migrants were aggressive.
Has that been a problem or is there just the sense -- of frustration?
WEDEMAN: There are young men, yes, there are many young men. But let's not be under the impression that it's only young men. There are
children. There are women. And a surprisingly large amount of women and children --
WEDEMAN: -- given the difficulty of the journey.
So, of course, you know, the younger men, the hotter bloods among them, are taking a somewhat more active, aggressive stance. But that
doesn't necessarily mean they're not, in a sense, expressing the anger and the frustration of almost all of the people here -- Robyn.
CURNOW: How has the mixed messages coming from Europe impacted on what's happening there now?
WEDEMAN: Well, of course, many people were delighted when, of course, they heard that Germany was opening its doors wide to refugees.
OK, it's going again.
And, therefore, I think this may account for the number of people who are actually here at this point. But, of course, now this is part -- you
know, they had great hope, when they thought they could go to places like Germany and Austria. And the fact that suddenly the door is shut, the road
is closed and they can't move forward accounts for what we're seeing here, this kind of frustration -- Robyn.
CURNOW: So these essentially, the back doors into Europe are, one by one, being closed here. And this is one example of it.
Do you get a sense that these people, who you're seeing now, who are facing the Hungarian security forces essentially, do you think they will
move on, try and find that alternative route, perhaps, through Croatia?
WEDEMAN: Well, yes -- and many people have. We -- some people went on to try to go in to Croatia. But even there there's some frustration
because they feel that they will be stopped there and won't be able to go further.
So there is constant talk among the refugees about possible secondary routes. Many of them are using their smartphones to get on to Facebook and
find out where new doors might be opening.
Excuse that language.
But at the end of the day, you have a huge number of people here and it seems to be growing. And right in front of them, of course, is that
gate to the European community. And so they're very -- many of them are simply focused on that.
But if other doors do open, they definitely will try to take them.
OK. Here's a scene I've seen before; some of the young men here are trying to ignite a car tire, a common, frequent form of protest in many
parts of the Middle East.
OK, more tear gas being fired.
OK, yes, so a taste of chaos here.
CURNOW: A taste of chaos. The E.U. just a few meters away from these people.
Ben, do you get the sense this could escalate?
How do you think the Hungarian authorities will react if this continues, intensifies?
WEDEMAN: Well, probably safe to say they have no intention to actually cross into Serbia. They will do what they are doing now to stop
any further advance by the refugees But really their authority stops at the border.
Now the question is, will the Serbian authorities do something to try to calm this situation down on this side?
Now what we've heard in the past 24 hours from Serbian officials, they say they don't consider the refugees to be criminals, that nobody should be
turned back in to Serbia, who's gotten into Hungary.
But they're frustrated. They would like to see the European community, of which Serbia is not a member, to resolve this problem once
and for all, rather than bring these problems to Serbia itself, which is exactly what's happening at the moment.
CURNOW: Struggling there with the tear gas. I think let's just remind our viewers what we're seeing, not just behind you, but also with
these live pictures on the border, a closer scene.
Just paint a picture, again, Ben; I know that you're struggling a little bit there with the tear gas. But just give us a sense of the
security situation that is unfolding there.
WEDEMAN: It's chaotic. I'm going to have to move.
CURNOW: While Ben gets out of the way, I'm just going to update you on the pictures you're seeing. He just needs to perhaps put a bit of water
in his eyes, take a deep breath.
And what you're seeing there is a scene playing out there on the Hungarian-Serbian border, on the Serbian side. The Hungarian authorities -
CURNOW: -- have been pushing back, migrants, refugees, who tried to break through a barrier from Serbia into Hungary.
This has been a very tense situation; this has been quite an ugly situation, as Ben said. It has been chaotic. There is a lot of
frustration, a lot of anger. Back doors to Europe slowly, emphatically being closed.
Hungary, one of the most emphatic about migrants, refugees not coming through their territory as they make their way, make their path towards
One alternative path that many migrants are now taking up is via Serbia through the Croatian border. And that's where we now find our Ivan
Ivan, what are you seeing?
What are you hearing?
IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Robyn, the scene here couldn't be more different from what Ben is experiencing on that
northern border of Serbia and Hungary.
Here we are on Serbia's western border with Croatia and what we've been seeing throughout the day is a trickle of migrants and refugees,
walking through the corn fields on this dirt road, through the fields, in the direction of Croatia. And, of course, they tend to be Syrians and
Iraqis; I've met many Iraqis from the southern port city of Basra.
And we're going to spin around here and show you the welcoming committee here. We have Croatian police here, who've been bringing vans
up. And we've heard them saying, come on, guys, come on over, don't be scared.
And that's in part because the Croatian government in the last 24 hours has announced, in the wake of Hungary's decision to close its
borders, the Croatian government has said, come on in. You're welcome here. You can transit through Croatia.
So we have seen the migrants and refugees who've come through; they're basically welcomed by the police here, loaded into vans and then they're
being taken into a center for registration and then the Croatian government says they will allow this stream of humanity to move on through.
Some of the people that we've talked to, as they've arrived, they're not sure of this route. It is new. This has literally evolved in the last
24 to 36 hours. And it's important to note, Robyn, that this migrant trail into Europe, it's very improvised. Frankly, it's illegal and that gets to
what Hungary's case is, why it's trying to control its border, its argument for why it's trying to do so.
And it evolves as people try to find alternate routes and as governments seem to work with them to allow people in.
So again, this is an alternate route that has sprung up in the wake of Hungary's decision to close its borders to migrants and refugees, Croatia
saying, come on in.
In the early hours of this morning, there were only a couple hundred that had come through. And that number is gradually increasing, as more
migrants make this dusty trek, as they hike through the fields to the police waiting here in Croatia.
CURNOW: Obviously also as the message filters through to these hundreds of thousands of people trying to make their way into Europe, we're
seeing very angry, chaotic scenes on the Serbian-Hungary border, an indication of just how fraught this has become for the continent.
The contrast between the image of where you are on our screens and the image we're seeing being fed by Reuters on the Serbian-Hungarian border is
very stark, indeed.
And, Ivan, let's not forget what the reason for all of this is, whether it's in those farming fields where you are or whether it's there
with water cannon on the Serbian-Hungarian border. This is all about a disintegration in Syria and Iraq.
WATSON: Absolutely. These are people who are fleeing countries, Iraq, for example, which has been in conflict now arguably for more than a
I'm bringing you over here that perhaps you can see kind of down the dirt road, more people kind of walking this way, slowly in this direction.
Now last night, Robyn, I was at the Hungarian border, where people were camping out right by the new fence that Hungary has built on the
northern border of Syria and it is the Serbian government that actually -- the Serbian government -- that actually began this trickle of migrants and
refugees in the direction of Croatia, by busing, announcing that it had bused 10 busloads of migrants and refugees from a camp that they had
established close to that border and brought them here to the Croatian border.
And then the subsequent announcement by the Croatian government that they will welcome migrants and refugees. And it is very well possible that
the crowds that are so incensed on that northern border with Hungary --
WATSON: -- have not yet heard this news because there is no fence here. If you can see down the dirt road, this typical scene that we've
seen here of people kind of trudging up the road, carrying their backpacks, the backpacks that have become an unofficial uniform for the migrants that
are criss-crossing the borders of the Balkans, trying to head into Central Europe, they're making their way up here.
And, there is no fence here between Serbia and Croatia. The dividing line is basically a dirt road through the beet fields and the cornfields
here, where the Croatian police are waiting for them and saying they'll be taken to a place for registration. And then the Croatian government says
that they will then be allowed to move on.
So presumably, in the wake of Hungary's decision, this could be the newest leg, the newest step in the journey along this migrant trail that so
many migrants and refugees are taking.
And the people that I've spoken with, they are a mix; the majority of them are Syrians, who have watched their country disintegrate into conflict
over the last four years and have clearly come to the conclusion that there is no future for them there.
And many of them have come from parts of Syria that are still under Syrian government control and see that there is not a future for them in
And they're paying their own way, Robyn. They are paying smugglers, who've taken them at very expensive rates on dangerous boats from the
Turkish coast to Greece; they then paid their own way, buying bus fares, buying train fares to travel across Greece, to travel across Macedonia and
then to travel across Serbia.
So these people are -- this is a self-funded migration at this point. And arguably these are people who've saved up for this difficult and, at
times, dangerous journey.
But again the message coming from the Serbian government, come on through, you're welcome to come through our territory. And now the message
coming from the Croatian government, where you have the police here, waiting for the migrants and refugees as they come through is, please, use
our channel, use our territory, to cross through.
One message that I've heard again and again from some of the refugees and migrants, a kind of paranoia. They're very nervous about being
fingerprinted, which is a measure that many of the border authorities have started to adopt, reportedly, in Germany, in Austria and in Croatia as
And many of the migrants and refugees that I've talked to say they do not want to be fingerprinted. They fear that that may be a measure used
against them to deport them in the future -- Robyn.
CURNOW: A complicated, desperate scene playing out at the border with Hungary but so much more quieter where you are, clearly, as you say, that
message not getting through, that there is an open door where you are.
We're going to come back to you very soon, Ivan. Stay with us. We have Ben Wedeman on the line.
Ben, before you went off -- oh, no there you are. We thought you might be a beeper, a telephone. But you're actually up. That's a good
thing. When we last saw you you were trying to rub your eyes with tear gas.
How is the situation now? Just describe what happened.
WEDEMAN: Well, what happened is now -- I guess it was about 45 minutes ago, an exchange started between refugees up near the Serbian-
Hungarian border and they started to throw objects and stuff.
Now people are coming back in large numbers. Anyway, the response from the Hungarian riot police there was with tear gas, with water cannons.
And the tear gas, of course, affecting not only the young men, who might be participating in this protest, so to speak, but also women and children as
So it looks like another salvo -- and I can feel it -- of tear gas has been fired. And so this is what we're seeing, this back-and-forth --
excuse me. The Hungarians fire the fear gas, fire the water cannons. People rush back. Sometimes it's a bit dangerous because there are
children in the crowd and there's a real danger of somebody being trampled.
And then when the air clears, they move back in. But as you can see, perhaps from these live pictures we're putting out, people are throwing
rocks, apples, bottles in the direction of the Hungarian forces. And they are firing back with the water cannon and tear gas.
Where is the U.N.?
So here, this -- there is a lot of anger among these people because they feel they've been abandoned here on the border. And because they had
come thinking that the road was open --
WEDEMAN: -- all the way all the way to Germany and Austria. But clearly the road is very, very closed.
CURNOW: Where you are, Ben; but Ivan Watson has just been saying it's very open on the Croatian border.
Do these people know that if they just put their backpacks on and made their way to the Serbian-Croatian border, they would be welcomed?
WEDEMAN: They are aware that the Croatian corridor, so to speak, has opened up and there might be a possibility to move forward.
But I spoke with people who said they have acquaintances, who tried to cross the border to Croatia. And of course, as Ivan was mentioning, they
were being fingerprinted and registered.
And the worry is, according to the Dublin agreement, that you must stay in the country you are registered in. And so they want to avoid being
fingerprinted and registered as refugees. They want simply to pass through countries like Croatia, countries like Hungary and get to countries like
Germany, like Austria, like Sweden.
And, yes, so they know that Croatia's possible, they're just very cautious because it's expensive. They don't have a lot of money to pay the
way, it's a 2.5-hour drive from here to the city of Sid on the Croatian border.
So they don't want to go. And, yes, there's a reasonable possibility of actually getting through.
Now here, one of the reasons why people are clapping is that they want to express their appreciation for Serbia. They're chanting "Serbia."
Earlier they were surrounding Serbian police, chanting "Thank you, Serbia," in between the volleys of tear gas.
So they definitely appreciate the help and the welcome being provided by Serbia, which is the exact opposite, in their opinion, of what Hungary
is doing for them.
CURNOW: They say thank you; they are grateful but still unsure what is next for them.
What does Serbia need?
What do these people need?
WEDEMAN: Well, sort of, immediately, what they need is shelter. They need food, they need water, they need medical care. They need things like
electricity to charge their cellphones.
And, going forward, they need at least the possibility, the hope that they'll be able to move on because, as I said before, when you've come all
the way from Afghanistan and you find yourself almost at the destination you wish to reach and then find yourself caught here, then the frustration
So I think, more than anything, more than even the creature comforts, I think they want hope. They want to know that they'll be able to finally
get to a country where they can live in peace and safety -- Robyn.
CURNOW: But still the European Union, bickering within itself, clearly not agreeing on a solution to the problem that is evolving behind
you and has been for months now.
What are people saying about the political situation that they find themselves caught in the middle of?
WEDEMAN: More than anything everyone I've spoken to, they had expressed confusion. They don't understand why Hungary is doing this, why
it's shut the gates, because they have seen the example of Germany and thought, this is Europe; Germany, the most powerful country in Europe is
welcoming them. And then all of a sudden they find themselves stuck.
So they don't quite understand the complexity of European politics -- and, of course, domestic politics. You know, despite the scenes you're
seeing playing out in front of you, in Hungary, itself, the policies, the hard-line policies of Viktor Orban, the prime minister, actually have a
fair amount of support because, of course, there's concern, particularly in Eastern Europe, of Eastern Europe being overrun by refugees and migrants.
So, among the refugees, there's confusion, because they just don't understand how, in a continent so rich and well provided for, that somehow
space can be found for admittedly thousands, tens of thousands of people, fleeing countries that have been essentially destroyed, like Syria, like
Iraq, like Afghanistan -- Robyn.
CURNOW: Tell us about the stories they've told you. You speak Arabic. You've had a lot of conversations. The human stories are what are
so important here. I mean, this is not about a young man trying to get to Europe --
CURNOW: -- to earn a living. This is about families, desperate people who have nothing left.
WEDEMAN: This is about families, who have endured years, decades in some cases, of suffering. Yesterday I met a family from Afghanistan. They
had come -- they've been traveling for two months through Pakistan, through Iran, through Turkey. They scraped up everything they could get together.
They sold all their possessions.
And I was speaking to the young girls, a 16-year-old girl named Miriam (ph). She said that, "I want to be in a country where I can swim, where I
can wear normal clothing, where I can just breathe free."
And it wasn't about -- you could tell, just from the honesty in her face, it wasn't about a job or money or a more comfortable life. It was
just a minimal level of human dignity that she was searching for.
And of course, this family, one of the children, his legs was in very bad shape because they've been walking, walking, in some cases, 40
kilometers a day. And certainly, after coming so far and being this close to where they want to go, to find it like this, it's disappointing. It's
maddening for many of these people.
Others have -- I met a young man from Iraq who had been pushed in a wheelchair by his friends all the way here. His legs are in braces. He
hasn't been able to walk for years.
But his friends helped him get all the way here. And he was just up the road.
I talked to him this morning, asking me, "Is there any hope, is there any news?"
And this is what people here are constantly asking you.
"Is there an update. Is there a change? Will we be able to get through that gate today?"
And it's very difficult to actually have to say, "I don't think so. I don't know," because the situation is so unclear, not only for the
refugees but also for anyone standing here in the sun all day, wondering why somehow a way can't be found for people to get through Hungary and go
to Germany and Austria, for instance -- Robyn.
CURNOW: I just want to make it clear to our viewers, these aren't live pictures that you're seeing on the right-hand side of your screen.
Ben Wedeman is live for us. These are earlier pictures unfolding in the last half an hour to an hour of Hungarian security forces, riot police,
responding to immigrants, to refugees trying to break through the barrier between Serbia and Hungary.
They responded with water cannon. They continue to do that. They're also responding with tear gas.
Ben Wedeman is there on the ground, on the Serbian side of the border, just giving us a sense of the chaos that has been unfolding there.
Ben, this has been described, this migrant crisis, as the largest human migration since the Second World War.
However, where you are, in the Balkans, that was also the most recent scene or site in the last 20-odd years of another massive human migration
borne out of breakdowns and the crisis within the region where you are.
Does that amplify things?
What is the emotional response to that?
Surely these are familiar scenes.
WEDEMAN: Well, what we've seen is, for instance in Serbia and Croatia, they seem to be -- which both countries experienced war during the
'90s -- there's a much more sort of deeper understanding about what it means to have your life turned upside down by war, what it means to become
I was in Albania and Macedonia, when tens of thousands of people were fleeing in the war in Kosovo. And certainly the international response was
a little better organized. There were lots of camps being set up and it didn't take long before services were being provided that these people here
can only dream of.
So, yes, in the Balkans, there's a much more recent memory of war and upheaval and the life of a refugee.
Now it's somewhat ironic that, in 1956, the Hungarian people revolted against the Soviet presence in their country. And tens of thousands of
them fled to neighboring countries, where they were provided shelter and refuge. But Hungary, it seems that the memory of that may have worn off a
OK, people are running back again. We see black smoke; clearly somebody has set a tire alight; helicopters overhead, another two
helicopters overhead. There's also a drone flying around. So I think this running battle is going to be going on for --
WEDEMAN: -- quite some time at this rate -- Robyn.
CURNOW: Ben, you say the running battle is going to go on.
Do these people, do these migrants on that side of the border truly believe that they will be able to break through that barrier, get into
Hungary and continue their journey?
Or has this now just become a statement or a message of frustration?
WEDEMAN: I think it's, more than anything, a message of frustration because what I saw earlier in the day, when they were protesting at the
fence but not moving through it, is that there was a real effort by people in the very front to stop anyone from breaking down this fence, to stop
anyone from actually causing an act that would cause a situation to get much worse.
And I think those cooler heads have been overcome by others, who are just angry and frustrated and are taking that anger out on the border fence
at the moment. It's a real mess here.
CURNOW: A real mess there, Ben Wedeman, on the scene at the Hungarian-Serbian border watching these events unfold.
I'm Robyn Curnow.
Ben, we're going to come back to you after this short break. We're all just going to get a chance to regroup, get you a chance to have a drink
of water and we'll come back to these scenes and to this dramatic story of this migrant crisis that continues to ricochet through Europe. Stay with
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
CUI: Welcome. I'm Robyn Curnow. You're watching CNN. A lot happening here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK at this hour.
We've been seeing extraordinary scenes playing out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CURNOW (voice-over): These are live pictures at the Hungarian-Serbian border. This is the Serbian side -- or the Hungarian side, apologies. I
can't quite figure out which way this camera angle is coming from.
But what you're seeing either way, what you're seeing is an escalation of the frustration between migrants and Hungarian authorities.
Migrants, refugees on the Serbian side of the border, have, in the past few hours -- there you can see -- been throwing apples, they've been
throwing stones, these are live pictures. And they have been responded to with water cannon, with tear gas, repeatedly, as the Hungarian authorities
have been trying to push these people back into Serbia.
So this is literally a battle, a fight that is taking place across the fence, across this border. Ben Wedeman has been on the scene throughout
the day. He's there; he's been feeling the tear gas, seeing the sense of panic, seeing and feeling also the anger experienced.
We're seeing black smoke on our screen now. Ben was showing us earlier a common symbol of frustration, the burning of tires. Meanwhile,
there is still the standoff.
Ben, are you there with me?
What's it like?
WEDEMAN: Well, it seems to have settled down to a fairly predictable back-and-forth. People --
WEDEMAN: -- move forward. And as soon as the Hungarian police fire this tear gas, they rush back. But now we've got, as you can see, burning
tires. There's tear gas -- oh, tear gas again. You can tell by the crowd running.
Trying to direct them away from us.
And it's going back and forth, several volleys of tear gas being fired at the moment.
But, as one man just told me a moment ago, we're not going back. We're not leaving until we cross that border, which may be more a stretch
of hope than realism; but, nonetheless, they don't have much left here but hope.
CURNOW: Hungarian authorities have repeatedly said that they are merely protecting, enforcing E.U. laws and regulations, that what they're
doing is procedural.
What is your assessment of that and the fact that the Hungarians are now showing this commitment to what they say are E.U. laws, as a frontline
E.U. state essentially, with this very heavy-handed, almost military response to the crisis?
WEDEMAN: I think their attitude is that, you know, they are on the front lines of the European community and that they feel that they cannot
afford to have tens of thousands of refugees and migrants come through their territory, since they don't have the resources to deal with them.
There's a certain amount of anger among some Hungarian officials that, of course, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, essentially announced a
couple weeks ago that Germany will welcome refugees because, of course, yes, Germany is welcoming refugees, but the refugees are going right
through Hungary and causing, it must be said, a certain amount of disruption in this case -- Robyn.
CURNOW: Ben, we were talking earlier about how it's probably unrealistic that, if they push harder on that side of the border, that they
will get through. There is this alternative route, this open door that has been offered to them via Croatia.
Tell us about that and, again, why these people behind you aren't taking that option?
WEDEMAN: Well, there's a feeling among many of them, who actually looked at the possibility of getting in touch with others who've gone to
the Croatian border. And their worry is that, if they go to Croatia, they'll be registered as refugees; they'll be fingerprinted and then
they'll be put in camps and won't be able to move forward. They won't be able to go any further -- or they might possibly, some of them worry, they
might be deported back to their home countries, which is a major concern, obviously, if you're, for instance, from Syria.
But another -- there are other options, none of them very attractive. One young man I spoke with said that he had been approached by a human
smuggler and said that for $1,500 he would somehow be able to get him under the fence or over the fence, somewhere along the Serbian-Hungarian border.
This is the problem, of course. Now the Hungarian officials and many European officials say they're very eager to crack down on human
trafficking. But if you can't get through legal means, if you can't get through peaceful means, then obviously, other extra-legal means are what
some people are going to try.
So scenes like this, distressing as they are, they may be good news for the human traffickers, who realize that these people are frustrated and
angry enough that they might actually go and pay 1,500 euro and enter Hungary a different way.
CURNOW: Exactly. I mean, that was a question I put to the Hungarian spokesperson, government spokesperson, I think, two or three weeks ago,
when he was on the INTERNATIONAL DESK saying isn't this just an added bonus, perhaps, an extra revenue stream for human traffickers?
Just tell us, also besides this horrible choice facing these people, the alternative route that we've been talking about, there is also the
issue of land mines that might or might not be on that Serbian-Bosnian border. This is a scene of frustration, because their options are running
WEDEMAN: Indeed, the doors are shutting. The roads are being closed. And, of course, you know, the news that Croatia may be willing to provide
passage for migrants, for refugees, into Europe, is something that is welcome. But yes, and you've got --
WEDEMAN: -- this additional problem of land mines left over from the Balkan wars on the border between Serbia and Croatia.
So it seems that as this -- as more doors close, the few ways left to get to Northern Europe could become dangerous and expensive and, in many
cases, just plain deadly.
So the options are limited. But as limited as those options are, the option of going back, of going home, for so many of these people, is simply
not on the table -- Robyn.
CURNOW: Ben, also I think let's just also paint a picture of where we are, where you are.
We're getting these live pictures coming from the border. We've been seeing black smoke. We've also been seeing this heavy riot police
presence. Just describe for us what that smoke is and what's been unfolding in the past few hours.
WEDEMAN: That smoke that you're seeing is coming from burning car tires. I think three of them have been set on fire. And this just the
latest twist; about an hour and a half ago, hour and 45 minutes ago, there was a very angry, raucous crowd of refugees and migrants at the gate that
separates Serbia from Hungary.
Throughout the day, they were sort of shaking it back and forth. There were some people who tried to calm the crowd, worrying that it would
just provoke the Hungarian forces into doing what they're doing now.
But I think the hotter heads prevailed in this case. And the gate was forced open.
There was a tense standoff. We were right in the middle of it, as the Hungarian police brought in an Arabic translator, who tried to explain to
people that, up along the fence, about a kilometer from here, there's a gate, a door, where you can attempt, you can apply to get into Hungary as a
But of course, the people are angry about that because word has come back that people would go in, they would apply, they would fill out forms,
they would be registered, they would be identified and then simply turned around and have their request to enter Hungary rejected along with an order
that they could not enter Hungary for an entire year.
So there's a feeling among many people, is that, you know, the only possible legal option to get into Hungary is really just a dishonest gambit
on the part of the Hungarian authorities, to give them just enough hope to calm down. So that was an offer being made by this -- by the Hungarian
authorities through an Arabic translator. That didn't go down well.
And after a few moments, people started to throw apples, throw plastic bottles at the Hungarian police. The Hungarian police fired back with tear
gas and then they opened with the water cannons.
And now I can see people are still throwing rocks, throwing bricks and apples and bottles and whatnot and the Hungarian forces are occasionally,
rather frequently, firing back with tear gas. And so it goes -- Robyn.
CURNOW: And so it goes. It seems that tear gas has been tired back at routine intervals throughout our conversation in the last 25 minutes or
I want you to stand by --
(EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM)
(EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM)
WATSON: It is a country that still bears the scars of the Balkan wars, the conflicts that tore apart this part of Europe in the '90s, after
the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
And perhaps that is part of why these migrants, these refugees, are receiving a much more welcome greeting, as you can see here, than the
Hungarian authorities have provided the crowds that have showed up at the Hungarian border -- Robyn.
CURNOW: The difference, Ivan, is so utterly stark. And it's, you know, staring at us on our TV screens right now; on one side, we're seeing
this blackened picture of riot police, riot vehicles, water cannon; we've seen tear gas. That is the picture on the Serbian-Hungarian border.
And then right next to it, there is your image of these bucolic fields of people being gently welcomed in, given information, some water.
There you can see them right there.
You ask the question, do the people on the Serbian-Hungarian border know about this alternative, more gentler route?
And our Ben Wedeman says, yes, they do, but they're nervous. They're paranoid about being fingerprinted.
Tell us about the process that is unfolding for this family and for many others on our screen right now.
What next for them?
WATSON: Well, according to the Croatian government, these people will be transported in a police van. And there are other police vans that are
kind of spaced out alone the border here, which has no fence to speak of. And they'll be taken to a kind of transit center, where they will be
processed, where they will be registered.
And the Croatian government has announced repeatedly that the people are welcome here and that they will not be stopped if they plan to travel
on forward deeper into Europe.
But the suspicion on the part of migrants and refugees, well, that's in part because of perhaps the treatment that they faced or the fact that
they don't quite yet trust this route.
After all, more than 100,000 people in recent months have passed across that Northern Serbian border at Benezette into Hungary. And that's
part of why the Hungarian government has taken these -- which could be described as draconian measures, trying to shut it.
These are just the first few hundred migrants and refugees that have been welcomed in through this route, this western route across Serbia since
Croatia announced this new measure.
And it's important to note, I mean, this is an evolving trail for migrants into Europe. It is one that has been improvised. It is not
legal; it involves smugglers at different borders.
People, by the time they've gotten to this point, they have probably crossed four or five different international borders to get to this
location. Some of them have taken immense risks, jumping into overloaded little dinghies and rafts to try to reach Greek islands from the Turkish
coast. They have spent their savings on this journey to try to reach this point.
And one of the challenges that may be facing people at the Hungarian border, where crowds have gathered in the last 48 hours, is that it costs a
lot of money to try to reroute yourself several hours, to try to hire a car or perhaps find a bus to come down to this location where I'm at right now.
What's interesting to note is that the Serbian government played a role in trying to open this alternate corridor into Europe by actually
busing at least 10 busloads of migrants that had been staying at a Serbian- run camp near the Hungarian border, by busing them, before dawn, to this location.
And can you see how more police vans now are driving through the fields here --
WATSON: -- to prepare to greet more people as they kind of walk amid the cornfields here, the beet fields here, down this dusty path, as they
hike over here to Croatia -- again, a government that has offered a sharp contradiction to the Hungarian government, saying, please come on in.
You're welcome here.
And you've got to wonder whether or not the recent history of conflict that Croatia has experienced is perhaps part of why this government has
proven more hospitable, at least in these first 24 hours, than the Hungarian government has been in the last 48 hours -- Robyn.
CURNOW: This hospitality, this altruism, is it because they want people to keep on moving through their territory?
Or is there a sense that they are welcoming them to settle?
WATSON: I think it's very early hours, in fact, for the Croatian government. From what we've seen in other transit countries like Greece,
like Macedonia, like Serbia, through which tens of thousands of people have passed in recent weeks and months, the authorities in all of these
countries have said, come on in, come on in, you're welcome, you're welcome, come on in.
And basically have allowed people to go out as swiftly as possible and they've really, in countries like Macedonia, enabled that, establishing a
transit center right next to the Greek border and then right next to an improvised kind of train station, where they just load people through as
fast as they possibly can, recognizing that they have become transit countries.
And perhaps that is what Croatia is going to do as well since, every migrant and refugee I've talked to, none of them have said they want to
stay in Serbia or Macedonia or Greece or even Croatia.
They want to go further into Europe, to wealthier countries that perhaps have better employment opportunities, better subsidies and have
offered kind of more hospitable packages to the wave of humanity headed in their direction -- Robyn.
CURNOW: A tale of two border posts here, Ivan Watson, thank you so much for your reporting.
Ben Wedeman will join Becky Anderson in just a moment.
Thanks for that, Ivan.
I'm Robyn Curnow here at the INTERNATIONAL DESK. We'll continue all of our coverage on this unfolding crisis in Europe, particularly in Serbia,
which has become a hot point on the Hungarian border.
And Becky Anderson, as I said, will take up the coverage right now. Thanks for watching.