— Serbia will step up efforts to halt illegal immigrants crossing its border from Macedonia
, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Wednesday, after Hungary
announced it would erect a fence on its border with Serbia to stop the migrant flow.
Hungary has registered more than 67,000 illegal immigrants so far this year and said last month it would build a four-meter-high fence along a 175-km (110-miles) stretch of its border with Serbia. The U.N. refugee agency condemned the move.
Vucic said in Budapest after meeting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that his country was facing a huge problem with migration but he was skeptical that migrants who wanted to get to Western Europe
could be stopped.
More than 34,000 migrants have been stopped and sought asylum in Serbia so far this year, mainly crossing from Macedonia and Bulgaria
, up from 16,500 in 2014, but there are no clear figures on the overall numbers of people entering the country illegally.
"The only firm numbers we have are those of the asylum seekers," said Rados Djurovic of the Belgrade-based Asylum Protection Centre. "Only today around 160 people at the Presevo border crossing (with Macedonia) said they were considering seeking asylum in Serbia ... the numbers are on the rise."
Hungary, a landlocked central European country of 10 million people, is in the European Union'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 Africa
. Most of them move on to wealthier western Europe.
On Tuesday, Austria, Hungary and Serbia called on the European Union to step up efforts to fight human smuggling through the Balkans and not just focus on southern migration routes.
"We regard the whole fence issue as one of guarding borders," Orban told a news conference after meeting Vucic.
He said the move was not aimed against Serbia and Hungary would develop border crossing points with its neighbor.