Hungary opens base for army border patrols to stop migrants

Hungary's defense minister inaugurated a small military base on Monday on the country's southern border for soldiers patrolling to prevent the entry of migrants.

Defense Minister Istvan Simicsko said that base built with the assistance of Austrian soldiers would provide "worthy" conditions for the 150 troops to be stationed there.

"The defense of the border ... so hundreds of thousands won't march across the country, deserves total respect," Simicsko told the soldiers. "Our most important common interest is the protection of the Hungarian citizens, our family members and civilians."

The Hercegszanto complex, about 220 kilometers (140 miles) south of Budapest, was constructed from 90 containers and is that last of four bases built since January for soldiers patrolling the Serbian border in Bacs-Kiskun county.

The bases will significantly cut soldiers' commute to the border zone for the patrols carried out jointly with police "border hunters," Simicsko said.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last week that a new fence being built on the Serbian border equipped with surveillance tools would withstand even a major surge of migrants, which Hungary is anticipating this year partly because of the deteriorating deal between the European Union and Turkey to prevent migrants from reaching Greece.

"This will be a fence that will be able to block the path of even the largest crowds arriving from Turkey," Orban said on Hungarian state radio. "So in Austria and Germany people can sleep soundly, because Hungarians will be protecting Europe's external borders."

Hungary first built fences on the borders with Serbian and Croatia in late 2015, when nearly 400,000 people traveled through the country on their way to Germany and other destinations in Western Europe.

Simicsko said that he had no information about any abuses of migrants who are caught in Hungary and summarily deported across the fence to Serbia. Several aid groups, including Doctors Without Borders, have denounced numerous cases of migrants returning to Serbia from Hungary with dog bites and injuries from reported beatings by border patrols.

Recent changes to Hungary's asylum policy, allowing the detention of all migrants, including children over 14, in border container camps, have also been the target of sturdy criticism by U.N. agencies and human rights advocates.

Simicsko said Hungary's 2017 defense budget was 350 billion forints ($1.2 billion), or 1 percent of gross domestic product. Hungary plans to increase its defense spending by 0.1 percent of GDP a year until reaching 2 percent.