Serbia, Hungary and Austria agree to bolster fight against illegal migrations

By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia on Wednesday agreed with Hungary and Austria to deploy more joint police patrols along its southern borders and align visa policies with those of the European Union to stem the flow of illegal migrants to the West through the Western Balkans.

The Western Balkans route via Turkey, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Serbia remains the main migratory path into the EU, border agency Frontex said in September, with a 141% increase in detections in August to 15,900.

"We have agreed to engage more police ... at the border with North Macedonia," Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told a news conference after signing a memorandum on cooperation with Hungary and Austria's respective prime ministers, Viktor Orban and Karl Nehammer.

Orban said that so far this year, Hungary has prevented 250,000 illegal crossings, many organised by armed smugglers. He also described the situation at the border with Serbia as "difficult."

"Illegal migration should not be managed, it should be stopped," Orban said, speaking through an interpreter.

Nehammer said Austria would deploy 100 police officers to help their Serbian colleagues to patrol the border with North Macedonia.

"There will be technical backing such as thermal vision cameras, drones and vehicles," he said, speaking through an interpreter.

He also praised Belgrade for ending its visa-free entry schemes with Burundi and Tunisia, adding Serbia would do the same with India by year's end.

"I am grateful to the president of Serbia for doing a lot to end 'asylum tourism,'" Nehammer said.

Vucic also said Serbia would align its visa policies with those of the EU.

Last month, Brussels warned Belgrade that migrants have been arriving in Serbia using a visa-free entry scheme Belgrade had agreed with a number of countries - from India and Burundi to Cuba - in return for their refusal to recognise the independence of its former province Kosovo.

Vucic said Serbia, Austria and Hungary have also agreed to share expenses for the deportation of migrants stranded in the Balkan country.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Matthew Lewis)