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Hungary begins second line of fence on border with Serbia

Hungary has announced it is building a second barrier to keep out migrants. The move by Prime Minister Viktor Orban is likely to exacerbate tensions between his government and the European Union (EU).

A government spokesman confirmed on Monday that Hungary was building an additional fence along its southern border with Serbia. The announcement came as a chorus of criticism increases from activists and members of the EU about the state of human rights under Orban.

The prime minister oversaw the building of a first barbed-wire fence in 2015, when Hungary was part of the main overland route for refugees entering Europe from parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. At the height of the refugee crisis, in September 2015, as many as 10,000 migrants were apprehended by Hungarian police on some days.

One fence 'not enough'

As the head of the country's right-wing government, Orban, a supporter of Donald Trump, has made halting the flow of migrants into Hungary one of his top priorities. He suggested in September 2016 that he was planning the construction of a second barrier along the Serbian border, insisting that "one fence is not enough."

The government says that while the number of migrants seeking to enter Hungary had dropped considerably since 2015, border police still prevent hundreds of people from illegally crossing the border each day.

Construction of the second fence is already being prepared, and Orban's chief of staff, Janos Lazar, said the government had earmarked 38 billion forints ($130 million, 123 million euros) for both the fence and newly planned migrant camps.

'A mockery of the right to seek asylum'

Orban's hardline policies have drawn criticism from outside observers, with rights groups Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Human Rights Watch sending a complaint on Friday to the EU Migration Commissioner over the country's proposed policies. On Monday, a European Parliament committee was also planning to discuss the state of fundamental rights in the country.

"The European Commission should not stand by while Hungary makes a mockery of the right to seek asylum," Human Rights Watch deputy director Bejamin Ward said. "Using transit zones as detention centers and forcing asylum seekers who are already inside Hungary back to the Serbian side of the razor-wire fence is abusive, pointless and cruel."

Earlier in the month, Orban had caused a stir when his government announced plans to build new camps in which migrants would be housed in shipping containers. Lazar later clarified that the new regulations would only be implemented as long as the country was under a state of emergency over mass migration, as it is now.

Orban has frequently locked horns with the EU and once said that his government was in "open conflict" with the bloc. He has also said in the past that Muslim refugees did not belong in Christian Europe.

blc/jm (AP, Reuters)

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