At Europe's New Migration Frontline, Opinion Is Divided on How to Stop the Crisis

After months of reports of people perishing on the Mediterranean, the discovery of a an abandoned lorry in Austria, crammed with the decomposing bodies of 71 migrants crossing from Hungary, has shocked Europe and highlighted a new frontier in the continent's migration crisis.

As of August 25, some 133,000 people have applied for asylum in Hungary this year, and the number is rising exponentially, according to an email statement from the Budapest Office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The IOM expects the number to hit 200,000 by the end of the year, almost five times the 43,000 applications Hungary received in 2014.

According to the European Union border agency Frontex, the Western Balkan route into Hungary refers both to migrants from Balkan countries and Middle Eastern and Sub-Saharan African migrants, who entered Europe via sea or over land from Turkey, and are now trying to enter Hungary. Compared to other EU transit routes, this migratory route shows the highest relative increase in detections of Syrian and Somali nationals, who use smugglers to cross from non-EU Serbia into the promised land of the passport-free Schengen Area in Hungary, wherein the EU principle of free movement applies.

The Hungarian government has moved aggressively to discourage migrants from attempting to enter the EU via its borders. In June, Hungarian authorities announced they were building a 4 metre (13 foot) razor-wire fence along its 175 km (109 mile) border with Serbia, with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto saying the country would not wait for the EU to come up with a better solution. More than 2,000 additional border patrol officers were deployed this week and a group of mainly Syrian and Afghan migrants were sprayed with tear gas as Budapest came down hard on those seeking entry. Despite the crackdown, more than 10,000 migrants have crossed into Serbia and headed towards the Hungarian border in the last week, The Telegraph reported.

According to Zoltán Kovács, spokesperson for the Hungarian Prime Minister's Office, smugglers and migrants are taking advantage of the Schengen system to move on to other countries after entering Hungary. "Human traffickers and, I'm sorry to say, the migrants themselves misuse or abuse [the system] because they know [when] they are within the Schengen zone, their capability of moving increases," says Kovács. He adds that increasing numbers of migrants are not registering upon entry into Hungary—a sign they might want to reach Germany or other final destinations in Europe. If migrants are registered in Hungary, they would be processed by the asylum system in Budapest rather than Berlin.

Kovács says that while the Hungarian authorities are clamping down on human trafficking—he claims the number of trafficking-related arrests has increased almost threefold in the past year-and-a-half and stands at almost 800 for 2015—the solution lies in stopping the problem at source. "We believe that everything should be done to get rid of the so-called pull factors," he says. Pull factors are perceived benefits—such as the availability of work—which draw migrants from their home countries to Europe. Just this week, the British immigration minister blamed businesses for hiring too many foreign workers, which he said was a pull factor contributing to record the record net migration figure of 330,000 announced on Thursday. "If you don't stop the pull factor then you are not able to stop the flow of migrants," Kovács says.

However, Magdalena Majkowska-Tomkin, the head of the Budapest Office of the IOM, believes that beefing up border security as Hungary has done only escalates the problem. "Smugglers operate in a situation where there is a demand for their services and unfortunately the militarization of border controls actually turns many people into smugglers' hands, because they cannot enter the EU legally and safely," says Majkowska-Tomkin.

She believes that more legal means of entering Europe should be opened up to migrants, including humanitarian visas and allowing skilled migrants to enter via labour migration channels. She also cites the Temporary Protection Directive—an EU protocol which came into force in 2002 and affords a form of short-term, generalized protection to large groups of refugees in emergency situations. According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, the Directive has never been invoked, and Majkowska-Tomkin believes that it could help open Europe to processing migrants in a more formal manner.

However, Majkowska-Tomkin is skeptical about whether member states have the political wherewithal to introduce such measures, and warns that failure to do so means smugglers will continue to profit from human misery. "There are different solutions that could be applied, but there isn't much political appetite for them, unfortunately," she says. "It should be relatively easy to cross Europe if you use flights or tickets but if that's not possible, there will always be persons that will try and benefit from the situation."