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Austria to help Hungary cope with migrant wave

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Austria to help Hungary cope with migrant wave
Photo: UNHCR/B. Kilic
09:48 CEST+02:00
The interior ministers of Austria, Hungary and Serbia have signed an agreement to send more personnel and technical equipment to joint police patrols on Serbia's borders with Hungary and Macedonia.

"The EU must not just be focused on the Mediterranean sea routes but also the Balkan route," Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told a press conference.

Mikl-Leitner said she wants to improve cooperation with Budapest to help secure its borders.

Hungary has refused to take back asylum seekers from other EU states and is threatening to build a fence along its border with Serbia to stem the flow of irregular migrants.

The European Commission has pledged to send financial aid and experts to Hungary to help it cope with a surge in illegal immigration this year, a senior Brussels official said in Budapest on Tuesday.

"Hungary will receive nearly €8 million ($9 million) of support to help it cope with the migration issue," said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the commission's senior official for migration issues, told journalists after a meeting with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.

Calling European Union member Hungary a "frontline" state like Italy and Greece, Avramopoulos said "Europe will always support frontline member states".

"Hungary is under pressure. We were talking so far about Italy and Greece, now we added Hungary," he noted.

Brussels also offered to send asylum experts and help set up temporary "hot-spot" tents to speed up identification and registration of migrants and processing of asylum requests, Avramopoulos said.

In the last two years, Hungary, also a member of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone, has become a major transit country for refugees and migrants attempting to reach wealthy Western countries like Austria and Germany by land rather than sea.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban complained last week in Brussels that Hungary was receiving little help from Brussels compared to Italy and Greece. "Now more attention is being paid to Hungary," Avramopoulos said on Tuesday.

In 2014, Hungary received more asylum requests per capita than any other EU country apart from Sweden, up to nearly 43,000 from just 2,000 in 2012.

Most come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, but also from Kosovo.

This year, more than 50,000 migrants tried to cross into Hungary via Serbia between January 1 and May 31 -- representing an 880 percent increase compared to the same period in 2014, according to the EU's Frontex border agency.

The surge has coincided with a series of controversial anti-immigration measures launched by Orban.

Earlier in June, his government unveiled plans to build a four-metre (13-foot) high fence on its border with Serbia to keep out migrants.

"We try to adopt a common European agenda, a common European policy on migration but member states are not deprived of the right to adopt their own policy on matters of defending borders," Avramopoulos said.

Fences have already been built by Greece and Bulgaria, also EU member states, he added.

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