Reuters International

Migrants walk through a snow-covered field after crossing the border from Macedonia, near the village of Miratovac, Serbia, January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

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HAJDUKOVO, Serbia (Reuters) - Hungary is offering to send police to Serbia's border with Macedonia and Bulgaria to help its neighbour stem the flows of migrants crossing illegally into Western Europe, Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said on Thursday.

Last year, hundreds of thousands of migrants took the Balkan route that includes Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.

Balkan countries closed their borders in March, but thousands of migrants still resort to perilous illegal crossings or pay people smugglers. For the majority of them, Hungary is a key entry point into the EU's border-free Schengen zone.

"Hungary proposed to help Serbia to guard its (southern) borders ... with police and legal help,” Pinter said after meeting his Serbian counterpart Nebojsa Stefanovic in Serbia’s border town of Hajdukovo. He spoke through an interpreter.

Stefanovic said the two Interior Ministries were ready to assess where additional police would be most needed when the migration routes switch back to the land from the sea as the weather worsens.

There are some 4,000 refugees in Serbia, most of them from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. To stem the flow, Serbia last month formed joint military-police border patrols.

Since the beginning of the year more than 103,000 migrants have passed through Serbia, an EU membership candidate. Its authorities prevented 5,000 illegal border crossings and charged 356 people with the smuggling of around 2,000 people.

Separately, Serbia’s Interior Ministry said on Thursday it detained 34 migrants found in a house in a Belgrade suburb. A day earlier, a 20-year-old Afghan migrant was shot dead near Serbia's border with Bulgaria. A hunter was detained in connection with the shooting.

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Alison Williams)

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