Hungary began preparations to build a 4-meter-high (13 feet) fence along its southern border with Serbia, becoming the latest European Union country to resort to physical barriers against a record wave of illegal immigration.
The government gave the interior minister one week to complete preparations to build the fence along the 175 kilometer (109 mile) border, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told reporters after a cabinet meeting in Budapest Wednesday. Finding a common solution in the EU would take too long, he said.
“Hungary can’t afford to wait,” Szijjarto said.
Serbia’s Premier Aleksandar Vucic said he was “shocked” by Hungary’s decision.
“Serbia will not close itself in, we will not live in Auschwitz,” Vucic told Serbian state television station RTS from Oslo. “Those people are crossing Serbia not to stay here but to go on to the EU.”
Vucic said he “expects answers” from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and said he would also discuss the issue with the EU. The Serbian and Hungarian governments are scheduled to meet July 1, he said.
European governments took in 185,000 asylum seekers in 2014, an increase of almost 50 percent from 2013, as the conflicts in Syria and Libya drove migration to Europe to the highest level since the early 1990s. The surge sparked plans across the continent to tighten borders. Bulgaria has already started to build a fence on its frontier with Turkey.
Hungary says it handles a disproportionately large burden of migrants. The number of border violators will top 60,000 by end-June, ruling party parliamentary leader Antal Rogan told state TV on Wednesday. That compares with 43,000 such cases in all of 2014. The cabinet estimates as many as 130,000 undocumented immigrants will arrive in Hungary this year.
EU proposals to disperse 40,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea across the bloc have been rejected by several leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. National leaders will have a chance to sketch out a new migration management system at a June 25-26 summit.
“If that’s not the case, we’ve got chaos,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told reporters.