(Vatican Radio) Hungary has sent dozens of police officers to Macedonia to help manage the flow of migrants fleeing war and poverty on that Balkan nation's border with Greece. The move comes after Hungary urged the European Union to protect its borders and defended its anti-migrant policies.
Listen to Stefan Bos' report:
Hungarian police said 31 officers left Monday from Hungary's capital Budapest in several vans and other police vehicles equipped with heat sensors to Macedonia. They will be will be deployed until February 4 to assist their Macedonian colleagues at a time when Europe faces its worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
Macedonia and other Balkan countries toughened entry criteria in November, limiting the passage of migrants across their borders to Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans while turning away others. That led to tensions. In one of the latest incidents three migrants from Pakistan have been hospitalized near Macedonia's border with Greece after a car they were traveling in overturned and the driver fled, officials said.
Hungary says it wants to use its experience to help Macedonia better manage the influx of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty. Over 391,000 migrants reached Hungary in 2015, nearly all passing through on their way to Germany and other destinations further west, according to official estimates.
However that flow of people practically stopped after Hungary built fences on its borders with Serbia and Croatia by mid-October, forcing migrants to take longer routes to the richer EU countries.
Yet, Hungary's right-wing government has been criticized over its anti-migrant policies, which also includes a new media campaign against the EU’s quota plan to distribute asylum seekers across the continent.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has defended Hungary's tough stance and its decision to launch a court case against the proposed quota system. "Any comments on quota are interpreted in the mind and heart of the people who would like to come as an invitation. Quota means that there is a solution to deal with those who would like to come to Europe. Instead of making it clear: 'that please don't risk, don't come. If you have no reason, political or war reason don’t take the risk'," he told reporters recently.
"Quota is an illusion for them, whatever we would like to say by that. And I think it is a responsibility of the leaders who use quota expressions instead of speaking on defending the border," Orbán added.
"Morally and from a human point of view I think this is the proper behaviour to emphasise that there is a control at the border. Regulations are clear. Everybody has to go through that procedure otherwise [they] can't step into the European Union," the prime minister stressed.
He spoke before a campaign began that included newspaper and television ads with the message “The quota increases the terror threat!” and “An illegal immigrant arrives in Europe on average every 12 seconds”.
A government website campaigning against the quota plan says Hungary, with a population of 10 million, would be forced, without consultation, to take in as many as 160,000 people, roughly the population of its third largest town, Szeged.
Critics say that in reality 160,000 people are to be distributed across the whole EU however, with Hungary receiving a maximum of 2,000 people.
Hungary isn't the only country in Central and Eastern Europe calling for tougher actions against the influx of refugees.
Czech President Milos Zeman, who is known for his anti-Islam rhetoric, says Egyptian fundamentalist group Muslim Brotherhood is likely to blame for the Europe migrant crisis, which he earlier described as "an organized invasion."