BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian police fired tear gas to subdue hundreds of people fighting each other and throwing rocks in an overcrowded camp for migrants in the eastern city of Debrecen, authorities said.
Rioting migrants also set fire to garbage and a policeman was injured when a flying rock struck him in the head, Interior Ministry spokesman Attila Samu said.
Hungary, a landlocked central European country of 10 million people, is in the European Union’s Schengen visa-free travel zone and thus an attractive destination for tens of thousands of migrants entering Europe through the Balkans from the Middle East and Africa. Most then move on to wealthier western Europe.
The migrant influx has prompted Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government to prepare construction of a 175-km (110 mile) fence along its border with Serbia, angering its southern neighbour.
Monday’s disturbances started with a fight between two migrants in the camp, which was designed to hold about 823 people but is now crammed with 1,655, on the outskirts of Debrecen, 230 km (140 miles) east of the capital Budapest.
“The conflict broke out after a Turkish migrant seized the Koran of an Afghan migrant and (because) allegedly there were 200 euros of cash inside the Koran,” Samu told Reuters.
“This set off the initial conflict, in which subsequently hundreds were embroiled. They broke out of the camp, occupied a road, pelted rocks and set fire to garbage containers. Police then forced them back into the camp.”
Police spokesman Denes Dobo said police had arrested one Turkish migrant. “Right now there is calm in the camp, police are upholding public order and security,” he said.
Samu said an extra 154 policemen were scrambled to the scene from nearby districts to restore order. They will remain on site as long as necessary, Samu added.
In the first six months of this year, the number of migrants crossing into the EU via Hungary’s border with Serbia exceeded 66,000, overtaking even the number arriving in Italy.
The flood of migrants is fuelling public hostility to the EU’s open borders and to the EU project as a whole.
EU summit talks last week over how to cope with the problem exposed sharp differences between Mediterranean states, which have borne the brunt of the influx, and poorer, ex-Communist central and east European countries who fear costly disruptions from proposals to make them take in a share of those in transit.
Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Sandor Peto; Editing by Mark Heinrich