BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The European Commission has offered to help set up temporary centers for the Hungarian government to process asylum requests and the return of illegal immigrants as the country struggles to cope with a surge of foreigners crossing its borders.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EC’s senior official on migration, also expressed support for the government’s plan to
to build a fence along the Serbian border to fend off the tide.
“Europe will always support frontline member states and Hungary is a frontline member state,” Avramopoulos told a news conference with Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.
“Hungary is under pressure. We were talking so far about Italy and Greece. Now we added Hungary,” he said.
Hungary is in the European Union’s Schengen visa-free travel zone and thus has become an attractive destination for tens of thousands of migrants entering Europe through the Balkans from the Middle East and Africa. Most then move on to wealthier western Europe.
So far this year, more than 67,000 illegal migrants reached the country, most of them coming across the southern border with Serbia. On Tuesday morning, 567 migrants crossed into Hungary,
Avramopoulos pledged nearly 8 million euros in aid and various other measures for Hungary.
The commission had offered the possibility of setting up “hot spot” tents to help in the swift processing of asylum requests and the return of illegal migrants. These will include experts from the European Asylum Support Office and other agencies.
Szijjarto said the list of actions was a “constructive” step. But Hungary stood by its plan to build a 175 km (110 mile) fence along the Serbian border to keep out migrants, who have cost it $56 million this year.
When asked about the plan, which has angered Serbia, Avramopoulos said member states had a responsibility to manage their borders.
“We try to adopt a common European agenda, a common European policy on migration. But this does not mean that we are allowed to deprive member states of adopting their own policy as far as borders management is concerned.”
Fences had also been built on the Greek-Turkish and Bulgarian-Turkish borders, he said.
Hungary says it no longer has the means to deal with a sharp increase in people streaming over its Balkan border and Prime Minister Viktor Orban is under political pressure from an anti-immigrant far-right opposition party.
Under EU rules, migrants must apply for asylum in the first member state they enter. If they move on to another EU country, they can be sent back to the country where they entered.
The interior ministers of Serbia, Austria and Hungary will meet later on Tuesday to discuss how controls could be stepped up on the Serbian-Macedonian and the Serbian-Hungarian borders, Szijjarto said.
Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Angus MacSwan