Hungarian police to assist Serbia on Macedonian border

AP News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2015 11:30 AM
Hungarian police to assist Serbia on Macedonian border

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungarian police will help patrol the Serbia-Macedonia border to try to stem the flow of migrants and refugees attempting to reach the European Union, officials said Monday.

Serbia, meanwhile, said it was struggling to cope with the rush of migrants crossing its territory.

Hungarian police chief Karoly Papp said that 20 officers and four mobile thermal cameras would be deployed from next week on Serbia's southern border with Macedonia, from where hundreds of migrants and refugees are crossing daily.

Traveling north across Serbia, refugees request asylum once they reach Hungary but most of them move further west to countries like Austria and Germany within the EU's passport-free Schengen zone before their petitions are resolved. Hungary says about 60,000 people have entered Hungary illegally this year, nearly all from Serbia.

Papp, who met Monday with Serbian police director Milorad Veljovic in the Hungarian city of Szeged, near the Serbian border, also said Hungarian, Serbian and Austrian police would cooperate in efforts to crack down on human traffickers.

Serbia, where more than 22,000 asylum claims have been filed this year, said it couldn't cope with the surge.

Aleksandar Vulin, minister of labor and social policy, said that Serbia lacked the money, medicine, food and technical assistance needed to deal with tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Africa.

"We are being stormed and we cannot cope with it alone," Vulin said in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.

Last week, Hungary said it planned to build a 4-meter (13-foot) high fence on its 175-kilometer (109-mile) border with Serbia to stem the flow of migrants.

Specifics about the fence, which would be built by the Hungarian police and military, are expected to be known Wednesday after the government hears a report about the expected costs, proposed route, construction timetable and other details.

Serbia has been very critical of the plan, with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic saying last week that the fence "cannot and will not happen." The two governments will hold a joint Cabinet meeting in Budapest on July 1.

"Serbia fully respects international conventions regarding asylum seekers, unlike some of our neighbors who are acting in a quite irresponsible way," Serbian Defense Minister Bratislav Gasic said Monday while touring the border with Macedonia in a clear reference to Hungary's fence plan.

The New York-based Human Right Watch advocacy group also contested the fence.

The fence "risks trapping people in Serbia, where Human Rights Watch documented serious abuses against migrants and asylum seekers by Serbian police and flaws in the asylum system," the group said. "The country that helped tear down the Iron Curtain in 1989 is building a new one."

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said his country would defend the EU's external borders from illegal immigration.

"It is a crime and Hungary does not allow crimes to be committed at its borders," Orban said Friday in Bratislava, Slovakia.

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Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.