BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary has decided to build a temporary fence on the border with Serbia as fast as possible to stop the flow of illegal migrants, the foreign minister said Wednesday.
Austria, meanwhile, reacted angrily to Hungary's announcement that, for an indefinite period, it would not take back refugees it registered when they entered Hungary but left for other destinations in Europe before their asylum requests were decided.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told reporters that several laws needed to be amended before construction of the fence could begin so he could not say exactly when the work on the "temporary border seal" could start.
"In the future, we will apply temporary border seals on every border section where there is no other effective way to impede illegal immigration," Szijjarto said, adding that the government had set aside 6.5 billion forints (20.9 million euros, $23.5 million) for the project.
Szijjarto said the fence, which is opposed by neighboring Serbia, "is not a bilateral issue. Relations with Serbia have never been as good as now."
He said 61,000 migrants had entered Hungary this year, nearly all by crossing Hungary's southern border with Serbia. Most of those who request refugee status in Hungary quickly leave for other destinations in western Europe, like Austria, Germany and Sweden.
Austria's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told Szijjarto that Hungary's suspension of the agreement on refugees was "unacceptable."
"Austria cannot tolerate this," Kurz said in a phone call Tuesday.
Szijjarto said Hungary had been told that Austria was among 11 EU countries planning to send asylum seekers back to Hungary, which prompted Hungary to seek consultations on the topic with EU officials. EU spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said the reasons behind Hungary's decision to refrain to receiving returned refugees were being examined.
"The EU Commission is aware of and concerned by the sudden increase of irregular migrants arriving in Hungary in the last weeks," Bertaud said.
Refugees can be returned to the EU country where they first made their asylum request. But Szijjarto said refugees registering for asylum in Hungary had already likely passed through Greece first, so they should be sent back there.
The EU, however, believes the safety of refugees cannot be guaranteed in debt-strained Greece right now so their registration in the asylum system takes place in Hungary.
George Jahn in Vienna and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.