A mad dash through EU's gateway

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Migrants walk along a railway aftercrossing the border from Serbia into Hungary. Authorities say record numbers are racing to cross before the completion of a 13-foot fence on the border.

ROSZKE, Hungary - On the edge of a Hungarian cornfield, the beam from a car's headlights reflects in their eyes: Europe's newest residents catching their breaths, fresh from evading border police.

Emotions swing from forlorn to triumphant and back again on this migrant-besieged frontier, as thousands of exhausted trekkers achieve one goal only to face another daunting challenge. Before arriving here, many have already slipped through Syria's border into Turkey lugging children or elderly parents, crossed the choppy seas to Greece, and navigated the Balkan nations of Macedonia and Serbia.

No razor-wire fence is going to stop them from entering Hungary, the gateway to the 28-nation European Union, and beginning what could be a years-long legal battle to prove their right to refugee status.

A journalist walking alongside the migrants was surrounded and bombarded with questions. Most seek reassurance that their weeks of physical toil and financial sacrifice - many have paid smugglers more than 3,000 euros ($3,500) each along the way - have not been in vain.

"If I report to police, if they fingerprint me, will I be allowed to go?" asks Mekdad Marey, a 25-year-old Syrian graphic designer from Damascus.

Marey and the half-dozen Syrian friends he has made on their three-week journey from Turkey all have different final destinations in mind: Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Germany. All agree that economically struggling, anti-immigrant Hungary will not be their home. Over the past year, Hungary has become the most popular back door for Arabs, Asians, and Africans to reach the heart of the EU without facing further passport or visa checks. As ceaseless as the tides, thousands cross daily along Hungary's 110-mile border with non-EU member Serbia.

Those surging through the Balkans now are racing against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing nationalist government, which has ordered army engineers to erect a 13-foot fence along the border. The soldiers already have laid low-level fortifications of razor wire. Three layers of the blade-tipped steel coils stretch as far as the eye can see, gleaming bright silver on a cloudless summer day, looking like the world's biggest Slinkys.

The migrants make short work of these defenses. Operating in teams, they turn off phones and extinguish cigarettes to avoid detection at night, navigating by the full moon. They take turns lifting the bottom razor coil high enough for a fellow migrant to crawl under. Knapsacks are pushed through or tossed over. Some emerge from the cornfields with bloody gashes on their hands, arms or heads.

Then it's a flat-out sprint of 50 yards or so. Hungarian police in sports utility vehicles gun their engines on the dirt road beside the razor wire, trying to catch the migrants before they escape into sun-bronzed fields of corn and sunflowers, disappearing quickly from view into the 10-foot high crops.

For those evading the law, the goal is to get through Hungary without leaving a bureaucratic trace. Their fear is that otherwise any other EU nation can deport them back to Hungary, their EU entry point and the place where they are supposed to claim asylum. In practice, however, EU statistics show this increasingly does not happen. Orban has vowed to reject any such deportees, and Germany just announced it has suspended enforcing the rule on the grounds of pointlessness.