BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Austria and Hungary will help Serbia curb migrant crossings at its southern border, Hungary’s foreign minister said Thursday, citing an “explosion” in the number of people entering European countries without authorization in recent months.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Hungary and Austria would supply Serbia with both equipment and personnel to better secure its border with North Macedonia. He spoke after delegations from the three countries met in Belgrade.
“It is our common interest to move the defense line toward the south and that is why we agreed to join forces,” Serbian media quoted Szijjarto as saying.
“There has been an explosion in the number of migrants, and it really can be compared with 2015,” when more than 1 million people entered Europe, he said.
Thursday’s meeting followed one the leaders of Austria, Hungary and Serbia held earlier in the week on developing a joint strategy to curb migration.
Migrants from the Asia, Africa and the Middle East who manage to reach Greece from Turkey then move north along the so-called Balkan route toward North Macedonia and further into Serbia before reaching the borders of European Union members Hungary or Croatia.
The journeys are long and often dangerous. Bodies floated amid splintered wreckage in the water off a Greek island on Thursday as the death toll from the sinking of two migrant boats hundreds of miles apart rose to at least 21, with many still missing.
Hungary erected a wire fence on its border with Serbia in 2016 to stop authorized crossings and faced criticism for its anti-immigration policies. Migrants looking to enter Hungary now seek help from people smugglers to cross. Serbian police reported Wednesday that they detained a number of suspected smugglers following a raid near the border.
“Serbia, Hungary and Austria share a joint problem because of the migration crisis and huge pressure at the borders,” Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic promised this week that Belgrade would align its visa policies with the EU’s to stop Serbia’s visa-free arrangements with some countries from being used for unauthorized migration.
Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner said his country received 58,000 asylum requests so far this year from people from Tunisia, Morocco, India and other countries whose citizens are not eligible for protection.
Follow AP’s coverage of global migration: https://apnews.com/hub/migration