Hungary said yesterday (23 June) it has indefinitely suspended the application of EU asylum rules in order to “protect Hungarian interests”, prompting Brussels to seek immediate clarification.
The rule requires a migrant’s claim to be processed in the EU country they first arrive in, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.
But it will be suspended as “the boat is full,” Zoltán Kovács told Austrian media, referring to the recent influx of migrants.
“We all wish for a European solution, but we need to protect Hungarian interests and our population.”
Hungary received more asylum-seekers per capita than any other EU country apart from Sweden in 2014, up to nearly 43,000 from just 2,000 in 2012.
About 60,000 migrants have entered Hungary so far this year, most of them via Serbia, according to government figures. Many of them are from Kosovo and are actually economic migrants. But there are among them also asylum-seekers from Syria and other more distant countries, who have entered the European continent via Greece and Macedonia.
Hungary says it has now “exhausted the resources at its disposal” to accept further asylum-seekers, and the government has toughened its anti-immigration rhetoric.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also sparked controversy last week when he announced that Hungary was building a four-metre (13-foot) high fence on its border with Serbia to keep out migrants.
The EU said late Tuesday that Budapest needs to urgently clarify its suspension of the so-called Dublin III regulation.
“Hungary has informed member states … that the suspension is due to technical reasons and for an uncertain period of time,” a European Commission spokeswoman said in a statement to AFP.
“As the Dublin rules do not foresee the suspension of transfers by the receiving member states, the Commission has asked Hungary for immediate clarification on the nature and extent of the technical failure, and on the measures taken to remedy the situation.”
‘Respect the rules’
Hungary is in Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, which means that once migrants have arrived in the country, they can travel freely elsewhere in the other 25 nations in the bloc.
Many try to continue on to other European states, including Austria and Germany.
According to the Dublin rules, however, these nations can return the asylum seekers to Hungary to process their application.
Underlining that the country no longer has the capacity to handle the influx of migrants, Kovacs said that more than 3,000 people are being lodged in centres that are built to house 2,500.
Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl Leitner strongly condemned Hungary’s decision.
“Anyone who wants to have a Europe without borders, needs to respect the Schengen rules. Of course this also means respecting the Dublin rule.”
Orbán, who has a record of spats with Brussels, has been among the harshest critics of EU plans to manage the upsurge in migrant numbers by spreading the burden around the 28-nation bloc. Orbán has actually called the Commission’s plans to re-distribute migrants across the EU “insane”.
He stirred international controversy last month when his government sent a survey to eight million Hungarian voters with questions linking migrants with terrorism.
As part of the anti-immigration campaign, state-funded posters have been plastered around the capital Budapest reading: “If you come to Hungary, you cannot take the jobs of Hungarians” and “If you come to Hungary, you have to respect our culture!”
Orbán will be in Brussels on Thursday for an EU summit the agenda of which is largely overtaken by the Greek crisis.
Vienna petitions Commission
Austria summoned Hungary’s ambassador on Wednesday after Budapest stopped accepting asylum seekers from other EU states, defying European authorities and potentially swelling the influx of migrants that Vienna must process.
Hungary’s government refused to take any more migrants sent there under EU regulations as of Tuesday, demonstrating its frustration with proposals to spread asylum seekers around the continent more equally.
Vienna has asked the European Commission to check if that action violates EU treaties, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
With EU leaders due to debate a new scheme on Thursday to relocate Mediterranean migrants, the Commission has also demanded an immediate explanation from Hungary.
Hungary’s refusal to take back refugees would exacerbate neighbouring Austria’s problems in dealing with an ever increasing influx of migrants.
In Budapest, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the country was fully complying with its EU obligations but was struggling with capacity problems due to a massive flow of illegal migrants from Serbia.
Of plans by Austria and other member states to send illegal immigrants back to Hungary, he said such migrants should be returned to Greece, where they first entered the EU.
Austria today (24 June) blasted a decision by neighbouring Hungary to suspend application of a key EU asylum rule as "unacceptable" and warned of "negative" consequences.
"Austria cannot tolerate that," Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told his Hungarian counterpart Péter Szijjártó.
Even before the wave of immigrants from Kosovo, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has made strong statements against immigration.
Orbán, who is affiliated to the centre-right European Peoples Party (EPP), says he wants to keep “Hungary as Hungary” and doesn’t want to let in people with different cultural characteristics and background.
According to the national statistics office (KSH), some 350,000 Hungarians live and worked abroad, most of them in Germany, Britain and Austria.