BELGRADE (Reuters) - Police chiefs from Germany, Austria and Hungary have agreed to help Serbia crack down on waves of illegal migrants transiting its territory heading for the European Union, Serbia’s police chief was quoted on Thursday as saying.
Tens of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa are using the Balkan route to enter the EU, passing from Greece into Macedonia and then Serbia on their way to Hungary, which is in the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone. Once there, they can move freely across most internal EU borders.
Hungary, which has registered more than 67,000 illegal immigrants so far this year, announced last month it would build a four-meter-high fence along a 175-km (110-miles) stretch of its border with Serbia. The U.N. refugee agency condemned the plan.
After meeting his counterparts from Hungary, Austria and Germany in Belgrade, Milorad Veljovic, the director of Serbian police, said German and Austrian officers would inspect Serbia’s border with its southern neighbor Macedonia to determine the manpower and equipment needs to stem the flow of migrants.
“Colleagues from Hungary ... and vehicles with thermal vision equipment are already on Serbia’s border with Macedonia ... and a joint database of migrants will be formed,” the Belgrade-based Beta news agency quoted Veljovic as saying.
Veljovic was not immediately available for further comment.
Serbia is not a member of the EU, but more than 34,000 migrants have sought asylum in the former Yugoslav republic so far this year, most of them having crossed from Macedonia and Bulgaria. It is not known how many people in total have entered Serbia illegally.
“Joint patrols with Hungarian policemen that started on Tuesday are yielding results as hundreds of migrants have been stopped (at the border with Macedonia),” Beta quoted Hungarian police chief Karoly Papp as saying after the meeting.
Veljovic said Austria would deploy 80 policemen to take part in joint border patrols along Serbia’s border with Macedonia. The comments could not be immediately confirmed.
The meeting came a day after Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban said they had agreed to step up efforts to curb the influx of illegal migrants.
Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Gareth Jones