BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary expects to complete a four-meter-high (12 feet) fence along its border with Serbia by November to stem the flow of tens of thousands of illegal migrants, a top ruling-party lawmaker was quoted as saying.
Hungary is part of Europe’s visa-free Schengen zone, making it attractive to migrants coming through the Balkans. It has registered more than 80,000 of them so far this year, compared with 43,000 in all 2014. Most are from poor or conflict-ridden countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The number trying to reach western Europe through Hungary could reach 200,000 to 300,000 this year, Antal Rogan, the parliamentary group leader of the ruling Fidesz party, told the newspaper Magyar Hirlap in an interview published on Friday.
“Therefore, it is especially justified to complete the fence along the Serbian-Hungarian border as soon as possible, by November,” Rogan was quoted as saying.
The issue has also become highly politicized, with Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government mounting a billboard campaign telling migrants to respect Hungary’s laws and stoking fears that foreigners could snatch the jobs of Hungarians.
“There may be debates about this, but I personally know of no better solution,” Rogan said. Construction of the 175-km (110 mile) fence, which has drawn rebukes from Serbia and the United Nations Refugee Agency, started earlier this month.
Rogan pointed to other examples, such as a fence along the U.S. border with Mexico, and some European countries, such as Bulgaria, which have raised physical barriers of their own.
The fence could reduce the ranks of incoming migrants to a seventh of current levels, Rogan said.
Shelters in Hungary and Austria are overcrowded, and late last month Hungarian police used tear gas to subdue hundreds of migrants fighting each other and throwing rocks in a camp in the eastern town of Debrecen.
Hungary’s parliament has also passed legislation, defying UN criticism, to shorten the time for screening asylum claims and to reject applications from migrants who have passed through third countries it considers safe without seeking asylum there.
Reporting by Gergely Szakacs,; editing by Larry King