Central European leaders pledge new measures to stem flow of migrants to EU

FILE PHOTO: A razor wire fence stands on the Serbian-Hungarian border next to the village of Rabe, Serbia, February 3, 2022. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The leaders of Hungary, Serbia and Austria pledged new measures on Monday to contain the flow of illegal migrants into the European Union through the Western Balkans, as border control forces become increasingly strained.

In the first eight months of this year, 86,581 irregular entries were detected at the external borders of the European Union with the Western Balkans, border agency Frontex has said, a 190% increase from last year.

The measures would be aimed at pushing down the EU's front line of defence towards North Macedonia from Hungary's southern border with Serbia, deporting illegal migrants and creating areas outside the bloc's borders to submit asylum requests, said Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, which initiated the efforts.

"Now this line is on the Serbian-Hungarian border. This is not good for Serbia and we are not happy about this either," Orban told a news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.

"If we changed EU law ... so that asylum requests can be submitted only in hotspots outside the EU and entry into Europe would not be granted until these are assessed, then our problems would be solved," said Orban, a strong opponent of migration.

The leaders aim to thrash out specifics and how to finance the measures during an upcoming meeting in Belgrade, Orban said.

Separately, Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said Hungary planned to deploy 4,000 border troops to the southern borders following a Czech decision to temporarily restart border controls on the EU's internal Schengen border with Slovakia last week.

"We have to change the legal situation in the EU to have really efficient asylum procedures and if the decision is to return (migrants), then to have efficient return procedures," Austria's Nehammer said.

"It is already past the time for action," he added.

Vucic said Serbia would align its visa policies with those of the EU so migrants cannot use Serbia as the first country of entry, adding that there was a notable increase in arrivals from Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He added however that Serbia did not want to host hotspots for migrants.

Frontex last month noted the Western Balkan route remained the most active migratory route into the EU, with a 141% increase in detections in August to 15,900.

"The high number of illegal border crossings can be attributed to repeated crossing attempts by migrants already present in the Western Balkans," the group said in a statement.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka and Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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