Hungary announced plans on Wednesday to build a four-meter-high fence along its border with Serbia to stem the flow of illegal migrants, in a move likely to annoy human rights groups and the European Union.
The landlocked central European country of 10 million people is in the EU\’s visa-free Schengen zone and thus an attractive destination for tens of thousands of migrants entering Europe through the Balkans from the Middle East and beyond.
"Immigration is one of the most serious problems facing the European Union today," Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a news conference in Budapest. "The EU\’s countries seek a solution … but Hungary cannot afford to wait any longer."
"We are talking about a stretch of border 175 km (110 miles) long, whose physical closure can happen with a four-meter high fence," he added.
Szijjarto said the fence Hungary planned to erect did not violate any international agreements. He said the government would hold a high-level meeting with Serbia, which is not in the EU, on July 1 to discuss the plans.
According to the Hungarian Office of Immigration and Nationality (BAH) about 57,000 people crossed into Hungary illegally this year, up sharply from 43,000 in all of 2014. Migration began to spike in the middle of last year.
The migrants include large numbers of Afghan, Syrian and Pakistani nationals, BAH Director General Zsuzsanna Vegh told public radio on Wednesday.
The fence will evoke memories of the Cold War-era barriers — including the Berlin Wall — that separated communist east Europe, including Hungary, from the capitalist west.
Further to the south, EU member Bulgaria has also built a fence along its border with Turkey with the same aim of keeping out illegal migrants.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban\’s government has come under fire at home and abroad for its handling of immigration.
Orban has called EU plans to distribute migrants evenly across the 28-nation bloc "bordering on insanity". His ruling Fidesz party has repeatedly criticized EU measures on immigration as inadequate.