BUDAPEST, Hungary – When Jean-Paul Apetey thinks of all he has endured, he finds it hard to believe he made it to Europe.
The 34-year-old from Ivory Coast piloted a migrant-packed boat from Turkey to Greece; evaded police in Macedonia; escaped from Bangladeshi smugglers; stared down thugs in Serbia; and made it through thanks to an act of kindness from a French tourist.
Now he's in Hungary, an increasingly popular back door for migrants to break into the European Union. Their journey is full of dangers, but not typically the mortal peril of a sea crossing to Italy — a journey that has produced more than a thousand dead in the southern Mediterranean this month alone.
Nor does the so-called Balkans route typically end in deportation. Instead, migrants like Apetey who make it this far usually get what they're after, because Hungary does little to stop migrants from heading west. Most bolt within a week to Germany or France.
"I am in Europe!" Apetey exclaimed. "I can start to become a human being again."
E.U. rules for immigrating legally are strict. But as Hungary shows, they are impossible to enforce when each country prefers to make migrants their neighbor's problem.
As enforcement on other routes has tightened and deaths multiplied in boat crossings, human traffickers have focused on Hungary, which faces record-breaking arrivals — more than 33,000 in the first three months of 2015.