The European Union could soon fund and set up new reception facilities for asylum-seekers in Hungary as it is already doing in Italy and Greece, its migration commissioner said on Monday.
Saying he would travel to Budapest soon, Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters that the EU executive was ready to offer further help to the government as it takes in large numbers of people crossing the Balkans to reach the European Union and would "if necessary, set up a hotspot in Hungary."
Already expected to open in the coming weeks in Greece and Italy, where more than 300,000 people have arrived this year by sea, these EU "hotspots" are being funded and staffed in part by immigration officers and other experts seconded from other member states.
"Hungary is under pressure, as is the case of Greece and Italy," Avramopoulos said near the Channel Tunnel terminal at Calais, where he was reviewing efforts by France to manage asylum seekers trying to reach Britain.
Hotspots will serve in part to bolster national efforts to process requests for refugee status. They have also been promoted by Germany, France and other wealthier states to help ensure their southern neighbors register and fingerprint those arriving, rather than allow them to head north unchecked.
The Hungarian government has complained that EU plans to relieve pressure on "frontline states", drawn up in May, focused on Italy and Greece. Tens of thousands of people have since arrived in Hungary, many of them having been in Greece. EU officials have recently said that plans to relocate some asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy could be extended to Hungary.
However, the European Commission has repeated criticism of Budapest for building fencing along its border with EU-membership candidate Serbia in an effort to halt migration.
"Whatever has to do with obstacles, we are against it," Avramopoulos said. "But on the other hand we must protect the European borders."
Asked in Brussels about Hungary's fence, a Commission spokeswoman told reporters: "Fences ... do not send the right message, particularly to our neighbors ... The Commission does not promote the use of fences and encourages member states to use alternative measures for border surveillance."
She noted, however, that there were no EU legal restrictions on governments using fencing to protect their national frontier.
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)