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Hungary seeks to tighten south border, hold illegal migrants

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary will take steps to tighten its southern border with Serbia to stem the rising flow of migrants and asylum seekers, officials said Tuesday.

A proposal by the governing Fidesz party would allow police at the border to turn back migrants seeking to enter the country illegally.

The plan is to “close the border by legal means … but this doesn’t mean building an iron curtain,” Fidesz vice chairman Lajos Kosa said.

Hungary has received more than 50,000 asylum requests so far this year, compared to 43,000 in 2014 and 2,157 in 2012. Previously, the majority of asylum seekers came from Kosovo. Since March, about 70 percent of them are from Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq.

“The Fidesz proposal would prevent those arriving illegally to Hungary from a secure country from being able to seek asylum status,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said. “It is not true that the lives of those arriving from Greece or Serbia are in danger.”

Kovacs didn’t rule out the possibility of a barbed wire fence on the border with Serbia.

“We hope for the best, but are preparing for the worst,” Kovacs said.

Officials also said that Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein had indicated they were planning to return to Hungary at least 15,000 migrants who made their asylum request here but moved on to Western Europe before their cases were assessed.

Antal Rogan, head of the Fidesz parliamentary group, said Hungary would like to return to its earlier practice, changed after pressure from the European Union, of taking into custody all those caught illegally crossing the border.

In the past few weeks, Hungary’s government has stepped up its anti-immigration campaign. Billboards with slogans like “If you come to Hungary, you cannot take away Hungarians’ jobs” are being put up. Voters also have been sent a questionnaire about migration, which the government hopes will legitimize its restrictive policies.

The questionnaire has been criticized by human rights groups for tying migration to terrorism and wilfully blurring the lines between refugees and economic migrants.

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