On the afternoon of September 14, 2015, Röszke, south-east Hungary
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
On September 14, 2015, five years ago today, a little after 4.00 pm as I recall, a woman, clad in traditional mid-east garb and with child, was trudging north along the unused railway line from Subotica, in northern Serbia, towards the Hungarian frontier. It was hot, probably 30C.
She was probably Syrian, or Iraqi, but I can't be sure. I could never speak to her. Photo: the border on the motorway, looking
from Serbia into Hungary, at Röszke. This was
on Sept 15 (or possibly 16), a day or two after
the events described in this post.
She was perhaps 30 metres from the border line when the local commander decided to close the border. After travelling perhaps 2,500 or even 3,000 miles, she, and her child, were the first people that summer to be refused entry into Hungary and the European Union across this otherwise unguarded crossing.
She was directed along the newly built fence, topped with razor wire, towards the motorway border crossing, some 400 metres to the west.
The section over the railway line was not, however, sealed. There was a gaping hole in the fence.
A few hours later, at around 8.00 pm, a Hungarian diesel locomotive approached, gingerly, from Szeged. It was pushing a freight truck which was wrapped like a child's Christmas present – except instead of coloured ribbon, it was covered in razor wire.
As the TV cameras of the world's press recorded every movement, the locomotive slowly eased the truck into the gap across the track, and then a team of soldiers bound it to the fence on either side with innumerable lines of barbed steel wire.
And the border was 'sealed' – as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had earlier promised it would be to stem the tide of “illegal migrants” into Europe.
Whether this was - legally or morally - right or wrong is an open question. What was lost in all this, however, was the fac that the whole event was pure theatre. There was absolutely no need, nor sense, in using this railway freight truck to plug the gap in the fence.
It would have been far more effective, and less costly, to simply run the fence across the track. But that would not have made for such good television, or publicity for the Hungarian prime minister. Yet every TV team there filmed and reported on the story.
For Viktor Orbán, it was job done, and most successfully at that.
I'm sorry I don't have any pictures of these events, but I promise you, I was there. And there is, for once, a happy ending, at least as far as I know. A colleague correspondent for The Australian told me on the Tuesday that the woman had made it to the motorway crossing, and been allowed across.
UPDATE: hvg online has published some photos to coincide with this border closure (although, sadly and surprisingly, none appear to be of events on the rail crossing itself on Sept 4th) see: