Wednesday

18th Jul 2018

Hungary and allies reject EU migrant quotas

  • Bratislava castle, or Fortress Europe? Slovakia initiated the V4 move (Photo: Miroslav Petrasko)

Four Central European countries have declared they are willing to block mandatory quotas on relocation of asylum seekers from northern Africa at this week’s EU summit.

In a joint statement issued in Bratislava on Tuesday (23 June), Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia – the so-called Visegrad countries - confirmed that “any point of reference in terms of mandatory quotas is unacceptable”.

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  • Slovakia granted asylum to five people so far this year (Photo: Internews Network)

“While expressing solidarity to member states mostly exposed to migratory pressures, we underline the responsibility of frontline member states to fully implement mechanisms currently in place.”

“There is a clear necessity to make a distinction between persons in need of international protection and economic migrants – with this regard the return and readmission policy shall be duly implemented, reviewed and strengthened,” the four states noted.

The statement follows a lively debate in the region about Europe’s immigration crisis and European Commission proposals that countries receive a set quota of migrants based on criteria such as GDP and population size.

Hungary, for its part, went a step further than its Visegrad counterparts.

Budapest on Tuesday suspended EU asylum rules – the Dublin regulation – which require that the first member state that an asylum seeker enters should process them.

Hungarian officials said that over 60,000 people have crossed the country’s borders illegally this year and its asylum system has become “overburdened”, according to a report by MTI agency.

Referendum?

The V4 move was initiated by Slovakia, also a staunch opponent of the quotas plan, and with one of the toughest asylum policy measures in place, according to local NGOs and experts.

The issue prompted an anti-immigration demonstration in Bratislava over the weekend.

Local politicians condemned several cases of violence by extremist right-wing groups but both the governing Social-Democrat SMER party and central-right opposition parties also criticised the obligatory quota plan at a parliamentary debate held on Tuesday.

“Quotas will not be a systematic solution to the situation. To the contrary, they will bring back the problem like a boomerang in a much higher intensity,” PM Robert Fico said during the debate.

He suggested Bratislava could hold a referendum on the issue in case the proposal is pushed forward.

“This could be a way to avoid consequences of the decision that the Slovak government simply cannot accept.”

Few granted asylum in Slovakia

The total number of asylum seekers in the EU broke records last year, on 626,000 (up by 44 percent on 2013), according to the Eurostat statistical office.

Both Italy and Hungary saw the highest rise of applicants.

For its part, Slovakia registered a drop of 25 percent compared to 2013, with most of the 330 asylum seekers coming from Afghanistan and Syria.

The country granted asylum to 15 people in 2013, 14 in 2014 and five so far this year, according to official government figures.

While some NGOs criticise the strict policy, interior minister Robert Kalinak maintains it is successful in preventing illegal immigrants entering the EU, “unlike some other member states that are not doing their home work,” he said in a recent radio discussion.

The ministry officials argue the current EU crisis is mostly about illegal immigration and that Slovakia is not the preferred destination of people coming to Europe from northern Africa anyway.

“The [Commission’s] quota proposal is grossly in breach of a basic right of people to decide where they want to go. Is it not against their human rights to be forced to stay five or so years in a country singled out as their destination?”, Bernard Priecel, the head of the Slovak migration office, commented.

EU leaders are due to discuss the migration proposal at their summit beginning in Brussels on Thursday.

The European Commission’s original plans, unveiled in May, call for a binding distribution of 40,000 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece over a two-year period.

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