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More than 40,000 Romanians have fled to neighboring Hungary in the past year because of "Stalinist-like" conditions in their homeland, a Roman Catholic church group says.

In a telexed statement, the West German-based organization Church for Needy called the exodus the "first such case of people fleeing from one communist state to another" to better their lot.

The group said in the statement received Tuesday that most of the people fleeing are of Hungarian extraction from the economically hard-hit Siebenbuergen region in northwestern Romania.

"Romania, once one of Europe's most prosperous countries, has become a Stalinist-like state that is robbing its minorities of property, religion and culture, and permits them to starve and freeze," the statement said.

It said Church for Needy had made available $50,000 for priests in Hungary to help resettle between 40,000 and 50,000 Romanians who have fled from their homeland since 1987.