Hungary and Serbia vow to work together to halt illegal migration

Viktor Orban defends border fence plan, warning millions could head for Europe

Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in Budapest on Wednesday. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in Budapest on Wednesday. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters

 

Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban has sought to soothe ties with Serbia and claimed that a fence he wants to build along the countries’ border is a “forced measure” to help slow a possible influx of “hundreds of millions” of migrants to Europe.

Mr Orban says Hungary is struggling to cope after more than 67,000 asylum seekers entered the EU member state from Serbia so far this year, most having travelled from the Middle East through Turkey and the Balkans.

Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic initially reacted with alarm to Budapest’s plan, saying his people would not be fenced in and forced “to live in Auschwitz”, but he and Mr Orban struck a conciliatory note after talks yesterday.

Border control

“This step ... is not directed towards the Serbian people, because we will have new legal border crossings,” Mr Orban added.

“In co-operation with its neighbours, Hungary will try to take adequate measures. We are now in a situation where masses of people are coming, and countries in western Europe want to send them back to us, which is why there is pressure on us from the south and the west.”

Hungary has denounced an EU rule that asylum seekers should be returned to the first member state that they enter, and with Bulgaria secured an exemption from a scheme to settle 60,000 refugees around the bloc over the next two years.

The vast majority of people who enter Hungary illegally file an obligatory asylum request and leave for countries further west, however, and Mr Orban has been accused by the EU and rights groups of using anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“It’s an illusion for anyone to think that people from the African crisis areas will keep arriving in Europe only until the crises there are pacified,” he said yesterday.

“If we allow it, a modern mass migration could take place of millions, even tens of millions and even hundreds of millions.”

Hungary has already sent police and technical equipment to Serbia to help tighten controls on its border with Macedonia, further south on the Balkan migration route.

Territory

Though Mr Orban’s fence plan was “not pleasant” for Serbia, “we will find a solution in joint action”, he added.

During a visit to Budapest on Tuesday, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commission’s top official on migration, said Hungary was entitled to build the fence and would receive almost €8 million to help cope with the influx of migrants.

“Europe will always support frontline member states and Hungary is a frontline member state,” he said.

“Hungary is under pressure. We were talking so far about Italy and Greece. Now we added Hungary.”