Hungary's anti-immigration campaign sparks controversy

A billboard with a state-funded anti-immigration poster reads 'If you come to Hungary, do not take the Hungarians' jobs!' in the third district of Budapest on June 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)

Budapest (AFP) - New anti-immigration billboards put up by the Hungarian government have sparked political controversy, with the head of a small opposition party admitting on Monday that he had vandalised the state-funded posters.

The posters, which recently popped up in the capital Budapest, feature slogans like: "If you come to Hungary, you cannot take away Hungarians' jobs" and "If you come to Hungary, you have to respect our culture!"

"We will not stop making the hate posters disappear," said Viktor Szigetvari who leads the opposition liberal party, Together (Egyutt).

Six of his party members were arrested on Sunday for defacing the billboards, but have since been released.

The posters -- widely ridiculed on social media -- are part of a larger anti-immigration campaign driven by Prime Minister Viktor Orban in response to a surge in asylum seekers.

Last year, Hungary received more refugees per capita than any other EU country apart from Sweden, up to almost 43,000 people from 2,000 in 2012.

In a further sign that Hungary is hardening its stance on foreigners, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Fidesz party floated the idea of the country closing its southern borders to stop the influx of migrants.

"We are working on a law that will prevent people arriving from safe countries from applying for political asylum in Hungary," Antal Rogan told Kossuth Radion on Sunday.

He said migrants' lives may have been in danger in Syria - a key source of refugees, together with Afghanistan and Kosovo - but that once they crossed into safe transit countries, like Greece or Serbia, they could apply for asylum there.

Last month, Orban stirred international controversy when his government sent a survey to eight million Hungarian voters with questions linking migrants with terrorism.