Hungary is prepared to increase its contribution to the protection of the Serbia-North-Macedonia border in technology and personnel, to improve the protection of the border against illegal migration, the foreign minister said in Belgrade on Thursday.
After meeting the Serbian finance, foreign and interior ministers and Austria’s foreign and interior ministers in Belgrade, Péter Szijjártó said that by protecting their own borders, those countries also protected Europe. The already existing cooperation should be stepped up to adapt to growing numbers of migrants, he told a joint press conference.
While the line of defence is currently on the Hungarian-Serbian border, it would be beneficial for all countries to shift it further south, he said. “We have to create a large, strong and effective border protection force in order to protect the border between Serbia and North Macedonia, and Hungary is ready to contribute to the maximum of its abilities,” Szijjártó said.
Meanwhile, Hungary is under double pressure, Szijjártó said. It has taken in some 1.5 million refugees since the start of the war in Ukraine even as its “southern border is also under siege,” he said. “That is no exaggeration, since people smugglers and migrants on the southern borders have armed themselves and do not hesitate to use live ammunition to fire at each other and the policemen protecting the Hungarian border,” he said.
So far, 195,000 illegal migrants have been stopped on the border this year alone, up from 85,000 in the same period last year and from 5,000 in 2018, he said.
The root causes have become graver, “because in addition to the EU’s pro-migration policy, there is now the global economic recession and the food crisis caused by the [Russia-Ukraine] war and the [EU] sanctions,” he said. The number of illegal migrants is expected to grow further and increase the pressure on the borders, he said.
“Hungary continues to see it as a security and criminal issue rather than a human rights one, because breaching the border between two safe countries is a crime,” he said.
Responding to a question, he praised Hungarian border patrols for “risking their lives in protection of the Hungarian and European border”. He rejected claims that the officers violated laws as they were protecting the border from illegal migrants.
Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said Serbia, Hungary and Austria were dealing with the same crisis which he insisted was not a humanitarian one. The crisis is the result of the activities of organised gangs who violate international regulations and exploit the fate of people in trouble, he said. “Serbia cannot be left alone” in dealing with the crisis, he said, adding that the three countries had become “reliable allies”. Serbia’s priority is the security of its citizens, and so it cannot allow migrants to be “stationed” in the country and disrupt daily life.
Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner thanked Serbia for its policies helping the EU. He called for technological cooperation to make border protection and the fight against people smuggling and illegal migration more effective.