UNITED NATIONS — Hungary's foreign minister on Tuesday rejected criticism of his country's handling of migrants fleeing to Europe from war zones and said the decision to build fences on its borders was not done "for fun," but to protect the European Union.
Thousands of refugees cross the border daily to Hungary, a landlocked country of 10 million and an eastern outpost of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone, and hope to travel on to Germany or northern Europe.
"This is not a refugee crisis or a migrant crisis, it's a mass popular movement with an unlimited supply of people," Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told reporters at the United Nations on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders.
"Europe is not in shape to take hundreds of thousands of migrants and it is a mistake for certain EU countries to make statements encouraging them to come to Europe."
Hungary's right-wing government shut the main land route for migrants into the European Union on Sept. 15. Hungary sealed off its border with Serbia and with migrants now traveling through Croatia, the government has since started building a fence along that border too.
"Critics on Hungary are unfair and unjust," Szijjarto said. "We're not doing it for fun. It's not the first fence built and if we're going to be criticized then others should also be criticized," he said, pointing to the U.S. southern border fence with Mexico or Greece's border with Turkey.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban says he is acting to save Europe's "Christian values" by blocking the main overland route used by mainly Muslim refugees through the Balkans.
The migrants, from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, are part of the largest migration in Europe since World War Two.
The EU's migration commissioner and some member states have said that barriers of the kind built by Hungary were temporary solutions that increased tensions.
Szijjarto said Europe's efforts to resolve the crisis were not treating the cause of the influx, which he said also included foreign fighters coming from the Middle East.
Hungary, he said, wanted to see the creation of a large fully-equipped European force to protect borders, especially in Greece, which was simply "not able to protect" Europe's frontiers.
Szijjarto said that at the U.N., Hungary would propose "world quotas" for taking refugees because the mass movements were a result of international political decisions and not just Europeans.