BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary will send thousands of policemen to its southern border with Serbia where it is building a security fence to stem an influx of migrants, a top government official said on Tuesday.
Landlocked Hungary is part of the European Union's Schengen zone of passport-free travel, making it attractive to migrants transiting the non-EU Balkans. It has registered over 100,000 migrants so far this year, compared with 43,000 in all 2014.
Most are from poor or conflict-ridden countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and look to move on to wealthier western and northern EU countries.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, Janos Lazar, said the deployment of additional border guards was required because of what he called the increasingly aggressive and resolute behaviour of migrants.
"Several thousand police officers will be deployed to the Serbian border whose task will be to defend this border section," Lazar told a news conference during a break in a cabinet meeting.
Hungary aims to complete a 3.5-metre-(11.5-foot)-tall fence along its 177-km (110-mile) frontier with Serbia, a project sharply criticised by Belgrade and the United Nations refugee agency, by November.
Lazar also proposed that parliament should convene for a special session shortly to tighten the penal code, making illegal border crossing or the damaging of the border fence punishable by up to four years in prison.
He said the government would also propose more drastic punishment for human trafficking. Many migrants pay thousands of euros (dollars) to trafficking gangs to get to Europe, usually on overloaded boats crossing the Mediterranean that have at times capsized and sunk, killing hundreds of people.
Antal Rogan, head of the ruling Fidesz party's parliamentary group, has said that as many as 200,000 to 300,000 migrants may try to reach western Europe through Hungary this year. More than 150,000 have reached Europe by sea so far in 2015.
Orban, a right-wing populist, has defended his measures on by associating immigration with terrorism, increased crime and unemployment, adding that Hungary needed to act on its own since the EU as a whole offers no solution.
Hungary has pointed to other examples such as a fence along the U.S. border with Mexico and some European countries such as Bulgaria that have raised physical barriers against migrants.
Hungary's parliament has also passed legislation, defying U.N. criticism, to shorten the time for screening asylum claims and to reject applications from migrants who have passed through third countries it considers safe without seeking asylum there.
The 28-nation EU failed at talks last month to agree on how to spread tens of thousands of asylum seekers now in Greece and Italy among member states over the next two years, postponing the decision until the end of the year.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Mark Heinrich)