BUDAPEST, Hungary – Serbia's government on Thursday accused Hungary of enacting harsher border control policies and breaching international law by returning migrants across their shared frontier.
The U.N. refugee authority and rights groups have also criticized the moves by Hungary, saying they deny refugees an opportunity to ask for asylum.
The new rules, in place since Tuesday, allow Hungarian police to return across the border to Serbia and Croatia refugees and migrants detained within eight kilometers (five miles) of the border fences protected by razor wire.
It's an extension of Hungary's "uncompromising" policies emphasizing border control while also rejecting migration and reducing to a minimum the number of asylum claims considered and refugees granted protection.
Hungary has increased the number of police and soldiers patrolling the borders to 10,000, a rise of about 50 percent. The government also added more equipment like thermal cameras and helicopters.
"Today, the protection of Hungary and of Europe is the government's task," said Janos Lazar, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff. "For Hungary, security is the most important question. Stopping illegal immigration is a key issue."
Hungary says that those caught near the border and taken back can file asylum claims at a couple of transit zones set up on the border. While 350 people were waiting in the two makeshift camps on the Serbian side to be allowed into the transit zones, only 30 people a day were being let in to file their claims.
In Serbia, government minister Aleksandar Vulin said he was "very concerned" by reports that Hungarian authorities "have tried not only to send the migrants to the transit zone, but to return them to Serbian territory, which has no legal grounds in international laws."
"We could find ourselves completely alone in solving the migrant crisis," Vulin added. "Europe is acting like the migrant crisis is over."
Despite the closure of the migrants' Balkan route in March, Vulin said 334 migrants had arrived overnight from Bulgaria and 158 from Macedonia, with more likely uncounted.
Nearly 400,000 migrants passed through Hungary last year, but just over 500 were granted some sort of international protection here.
Hungary will hold a government-sponsored referendum on Oct. 2 seeking political support for its opposition to any future plans by the European Union to relocate migrants and refugees among the members of the bloc.
Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.