BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany said on Thursday it was sending 20 police officers to the border between Hungary and Serbia to help control a surge in the number of asylum seekers heading into the European Union and ultimately to Germany with its generous welfare benefits.
The EU has seen a sharp rise in the number of Kosovo citizens smuggling themselves into the bloc especially since a relaxation of travel rules allowing them to reach EU borders via Serbia. Some 10,000 Kosovars filed for asylum in Hungary in just one month this year, many fleeing from poverty and unemployment.
Immigration has shot up the political agenda in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, with many voters angry about the cost and fearful that migrants and refugees will take their jobs.
"To ensure the long-term stability of Kosovo and the whole region and to guarantee ... protection and acceptance among the population for those who are politically persecuted .. we have taken a range of measures," said the ministry in a statement.
One step is for 20 German police officers to go to the Hungarian-Serbian frontier immediately to support long-term border management, said the ministry.
The EU's border control agency Frontex would also be strengthened there and Germany will support additional measures to protect the bloc's external borders.
It said authorities would prioritize asylum applications of Kosovo citizens, deciding on them within two weeks and stepping up efforts to show Germany is not an easy place to get applications through.
Germany rejected about 99 percent of asylum applications from Kosovars last year and in January the approval rate was even lower, at 0.3 percent, said the ministry. To gain asylum, applicants must show they would faced persecution if they returned to their home country
The number of refugees from Kosovo jumped by 86 percent in January alone to 3,630, said the ministry.
The interior ministry has also signaled it is open to changing the law - possibly making it easier to deport asylum seekers from Kosovo by making it a country of safe origin - but it has said that this is not the priority for now.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Ralph Boulton)