Hungary made plans on Wednesday to reinforce its southern border with helicopters, mounted police and dogs, and was also considering using the army to confront a record number of migrants trekking into Europe, many fleeing war in Syria.
Unrest flared briefly at a crowded reception center in the border region of Roszke, with a police spokesman saying tear gas had been fired.
Police said a record 2,533 migrants – most of them from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan – were caught entering Hungary from Serbia on Tuesday. Another 1,300 were detained just by 9.30 a.m. (0730 GMT) on Wednesday.
More will have passed unnoticed, walking through gaps in an unfinished barrier to a Europe groping for answers to its worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
Hungary, which is part of Europe’s Schengen passport-free travel zone, is building a fence along its 175-km (110-mile) border with Serbia in a bid to keep them out, taking a hard line on what right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban says is a threat to European security, prosperity and identity.
Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said parliament would debate next week whether to employ the army in the border effort.
“Hungary's government and national security cabinet ... has discussed the question of how the army could be used to help protect Hungary's border and the EU's border,” Kovacs said.
Authorities said over 140,000 migrants had entered Hungary from Serbia to far this year. The numbers traveling through the Balkans have soared in recent weeks, with 3,000 crossing into Macedonia daily from Greece then whisked by train and bus north to Serbia and beyond.
"It's for freedom"
The chief commissioner of Hungarian police, Karoly Papp, said police were readying six special border patrol units of an initial 2,106 officers, equipped with helicopters, horses and dogs, to be sent in depending on the situation on the Serbian border.
Syrian migrants cross under a fence into Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, August 26, 2015.
“They don’t have and will not get an order to shoot,” Papp told a news conference.
In Roszke, the police spokesman said some 200 migrants at the reception center where unrest flared had refused to be fingerprinted.
Almost all hope to reach the more affluent countries of northern and western Europe such as Germany and Sweden, but being fingerprinted in Hungary means that, under EU rules, they risk being returned to Budapest as their official point of entry into the 28-nation EU.
"I want a country to be part of, I want a country to belong to, I want a culture, a civilization," said Rabie Hajouk, a 29-year-old IT engineer who said he was from the devastated Syrian city of Homs.
"It's not for money or for food, it's for freedom, freedom of mind, for education. To be part of the civilized world."
Embroiled in a debilitating economic crisis, Greece has taken to ferrying mainly Syrian migrants from its overwhelmed islands to Athens. Some 50,000 hit Greek shores by boat from Turkey in July alone.
Some European leaders have complained that Greece fails to register its arrivals, meaning their first recognized point of entry is often elsewhere and Athens does not risk them being sent back.
Serbia said around 10,000 migrants were passing through the country at any time, their stay lengthening as Hungary nears completion of its border fence.
“The situation will get worse, when winter arrives. We’re getting ready to look after double that number,” Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.