The clash followed two days of frustration for the migrants, some of whom arrived in the area after Hungary imposed tough new laws to prevent their passage into the country.
HORGOS, Serbia — Hungarian police officers moved against hundreds of migrants Wednesday, attacking them with batons, water cannons and tear gas after they tried to surge through a border crossing that had been blocked for a second day.
The migrants tore down a razor-wire gate on the Serbian side of the crossing and were pushing through to a second gate on the Hungarian side when the riot police drove them back. Twenty people were injured, including two children who had been thrown across the fence into Hungary, and taken to a hospital, authorities said.
But the migrants soon started fires and threw rocks toward police officers, who then came at them with batons, beating their way through the crowd.
The clash followed two days of frustration for the migrants, some of whom arrived in the area soon after Hungary imposed tough new laws Tuesday to prevent their passage into the country, and enforced the laws with armed police officers at a reinforced border with Serbia.
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It was the first major clash on the land route from Turkey since Aug. 21, when the Macedonian police used stun grenades to break up a group trying to cross the border from Greece.
Already some of the migrants who had reached the crossing had given up and peeled off, heading for new routes through Croatia and other countries on their journey west, where they hope to apply for asylum in places such as Germany and Sweden.
But about 2,000 remained behind, hoping Hungary would reconsider, as it had done once before, and let them pass to Austria, on buses or by train.
By late afternoon, the calm, almost-festive atmosphere at an informal encampment at the closed crossing point grew increasingly tense, and hundreds of migrants pressed the border.
“Open! Open! Open!” the migrants chanted. About 50 riot-police officers formed a barrier. A vehicle armed with water cannons stood nearby. Military helicopters hovered overhead.
The police fired tear gas. Many of the migrants gagged and poured water over their eyes to stop the sting, but the action drove them back.
Throngs of young men then set trash and wood on fire. Others hurled blocks of charred wood and stones at the fence, and at the officers guarding it.
The police appeared to pull back, and suddenly the gate opened. “It’s open, it’s open, bye-bye Serbia,” some of the migrants shouted. But as they started to push through, the police came at them, beating at them with their batons, as many were trampled in a rush back to the Serbian side.
The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, responded with outrage to news footage of the clash. “I was shocked to see how these refugees and migrants were treated,” he said. “It’s not acceptable.”
Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, blamed unruly migrants for the clash.
International emergency-relief officials expressed alarm about the standoff at the border and said they feared it may portend more violence.
“These people already have covered thousands of kilometers to get to that point,” said Balazs Lehel, program coordinator in the Budapest office of the International Organization for Migration. “They’re so tired and frustrated that they don’t have the strength to get up again and find another route.”
Still, with the Hungarian border blocked, many migrants began to seek other routes to western Europe, showing their determination to leave behind war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Countries like Croatia — through which they could bypass Hungary — were preparing for mass arrivals. Croatia’s prime minister promised safe movement, as long as they were only passing through the country. About 320 had entered Croatia by late afternoon, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
But humanitarian groups raised concerns that migrants seeking to get to Croatia could inadvertently cross through areas near the Hungarian-Croatian border that are littered with thousands of land mines left from the Balkan wars of the 1990s. On Wednesday, Croatian demining experts were sent to the area where many migrants were arriving, Reuters reported.
Hungary moved to close off another alternative, by tightening its border with Romania. That prompted an angry response from Victor Ponta, Romania’s prime minister, who said Hungary was violating the European Union’s ideals of peace and unity. “Fences, dogs, police, weapons: This looks like the 1930s,” he was quoted as saying by the Romanian news service Mediafax.
The ripple effects reached as far as Istanbul, Turkey, where hundreds of migrants were huddled in informal camps after they were stopped from leaving Turkey or picked up on highways and brought back to the city. Still, some had made it to Edirne, on the European side of Turkey, where migrants thronged a bus station in the hope of getting clearance to walk to the border with Greece.
Hungary’s actions had spillover effects throughout the region. Buses that had been carrying migrants to Serbia’s border with Hungary from its border with Macedonia were instead diverted to Croatia, Serbian news media reported.
Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said Wednesday that migrants would be allowed to pass through the country, which is a member of the European Union but borders several countries that are not. “No one will block them,” he said. “No fences.”
But Milanovic, who faces a tight race in November elections, also made it clear his country was not a final destination, for the migrants.