BUDAPEST • Hungary's Parliament has overwhelmingly approved the construction of a controversial fence on the border with Serbia to keep out migrants, under new legislation that also tightens asylum application rules.
The plans for the 4m-high barrier, announced by populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban last month, triggered concern both in Serbia and the European Union, which is struggling to control a massive influx of illegal migrants from the Middle East and Africa.
"Hungary is confronted with the biggest surge of migrants in its history, its capacities are overloaded by 130 per cent," Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said before Monday's vote.
Lawmakers voted 151 to 41 in favour of new laws allowing the building of the fence along the 175km border with Serbia which, unlike Hungary, is not an EU member.
The new laws also toughen asylum application rules, allowing for the detention of migrants in temporary camps, as well as allowing Budapest to reject claims from migrants who, on their journey from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, have passed through safe countries. It also speeds up the review process and limits the chances for appeal.
The United Nations and the Council of Europe have criticised the Bill, saying it would weaken refugee protection in Hungary.
Over the last two years, Hungary has been one of the main routes for people hoping to cross into Austria and Germany. The migrants mostly come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Kosovo.
Hungary is in the EU's passport-free Schengen zone, which means that once migrants are inside the country, they can travel freely elsewhere.
The number of people caught crossing the Serbia-Hungary border alone has risen by more than 2,500 per cent since 2010 - from 2,370 to 60,602, said human rights group Amnesty International yesterday. It said that last month, Serbian police arrested 29 police officers and nine Customs officials suspected of corruption and abuse of power, accusing them of taking bribes to let migrants illegally pass through the border to Hungary.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS