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News 01 Jul 15

Serbia, Hungary End Row Over Border Fence

At a joint meeting of the two governments in Budapest, Hungary said the new border fence is not directed against Serbia and will prevent a further mass influx of illegal immigrants.

Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Belgrade
 PM's of Serbia and Hungary, Aleksandar Vucic and Viktor Orban | Photo by Beta

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday said the plan to build a fence along the southern border was not a move against Serbia, praising the good relations between the two countries.

"This step... is not directed towards the Serbian people because we will set new legal border crossings and also expand them, " Orban told a press conference after a joint session of the governments of Serbia and Hungary in Budapest.

He added that he had asked Aleksandar Vucic, the Serbian Prime Minister, to understand his intentions because Hungary was interested in good relations.

 In mid-June, Hungary said it was considering building a four-metre-high fence along its border with Serbia to stem the flow of illegal migrants.

Serbian officials condemned the plan and Prime Minister Vucic said that it was “not the solution” to control the flow of illegal immigrants, adding that “Serbia is not the one to blame” because illegal migration was a wider European problem.

After the meeting with Orban, Vucic stressed that the relationship between two countries had never been better and announced that the two countries would work together to curb the number of migrants.

“We'll find a solution in joint action,” Vucic said, adding that he was aware that Hungary was not building a wall against Serbia but to protect its interests and national territory.

 In the run-up to Wednesday's joint cabinet meeting, the Hungarian and Serbian Foreign Ministers voiced different views on the issue.

 Peter Szijjarto, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, said that because of “the unprecedented immigration pressure, setting up a physical barrier is a must,” while his Serbian counterpart, Ivica Dacic, said Serbia was “absolutely and fiercely” against the fence, and compared it to the Berlin Wall.

On the other hand, the interior ministers of Serbia, Austria and Hungary on June 30 signed a Memorandum of Understanding by which the three countries agreed to take common measures to combat irregular migration.

One of the concrete measures will be mixed joint patrols of Serbian, Hungarian and Austrian police on the Serbian border with Macedonia.

Frontex, the EU agency that manages cooperation between national border guards, has reported the largest number of illegal crossings occurring at the land border between Hungary and Serbia.

In December 2014, around 55 per cent of all detected illegal border crossing across the entire EU and Schengen area were reported there.

Sandor Pinter, the Hungarian Interior Minister, said that 67,000 people had requested refugee status in Hungary by July 29.

The total number in 2014 was around 43,000 people. About 70 per cent of the refugees came from Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq.

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