Hungary wants EU to help pay border costs

Budapest (AFP) –


Hungary has demanded that Brussels refund half the 800 million euros ($950 million) it says it has spent defending its southern borders against illegal immigration, the government said Thursday.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff Janos Lazar said border protection was an issue of "European solidarity" that must be "demonstrated in practice".

"Brussels should pay its share," as it has done with Italy, Greece and Bulgaria, he said. Orban requested the "exceptional costs" in a letter to European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker.

In response to a wave of refugees and migrants crossing its border with Serbia in 2015, Budapest erected a razor-wire fence patrolled by soldiers and dogs.

It then reinforced that barrier with a second fence line, recruited some 3,000 special "border hunter" police and built another fence on its other southern border with Croatia.

The measures protect Europe as well as Hungary, but so far their cost since the start of the migration crisis has been financed by Budapest alone, Lazar said.

Over 400,000 people crossed through Hungary in 2015 but the numbers fell to a trickle after the fences were built. Subsequently the "Balkan Route" northwards from Greece was also closed.

The construction drew fierce criticism from Brussels, though other EU member states later built their own versions.

This year, Budapest's systematic detention of all asylum seekers entering Hungary in "transit zone" closed camps built into the fences and composed of shipping containers has also sparked outcry.

Orban, who has called immigration the "Trojan Horse of terrorism", has also refused to take any migrants under an EU scheme to share them around the bloc.