21st Mar 2018

Hungary defends suspension of EU asylum rules

  • Hungary's green border is about to be fenced up (Photo: Dan Lantner)

Hungary’s top diplomat in Brussels says the government’s decision to suspend asylum transfers is an appeal for help.

“Hungary has not taken any legal decision on the suspension of any elements of the Dublin system”, Peter Gyorkos, its ambassador to the EU, told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (23 June).

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A communique sent from the prime minister’s office on Tuesday to other member states requested they no longer return registered migrants to Hungary to complete their asylum application process.

“What we are asking for is patience and solidarity and not to continue the transfers for a limited time as long as we can mobilise additional human, technical and financial resources. Where could we put them, on the streets, in the forests? We need camps, houses”, Gyorkos noted.

The commission, for its part, says it’s discussing the “technical reasons and the specific circumstances” that led Hungary to suspend Dublin transfers.

“The commission is aware of and concerned by the sudden increase of irregular migrants arriving in Hungary in the last weeks,” said EU spokesperson Natasha Bertaud.

Hungary has seen 61,000 people arrive this year, up from 47,000 in 2014.

Most are fingerprinted and registered, says Gyorkos. But then they go to other member states before the asylum demand is finished. Once caught, often in Austria or Germany, they are sent back.

Of the some 60,000 registered, only around 3,000 have remained in Hungary.

Many come via the Western Balkan route: They enter the EU via Greece or Bulgaria, then cross Serbia to Hungary, which is a member of the borderless Schengen zone.

Returns to Greece are banned following a 2011 European Court of Human Rights ruling on “degrading” conditions in its migrant holding centres.

The EU’s border agency Frontex recently said the number of migrants at the Hungarian-Serbian border “was so high that at one point in December 2014 it accounted for more than half of all illegal border crossings at the EU’s external border.”

Hungarian statistics show many of the new arrivals since March are from Afghanistan, Syria, and Pakistan.

Political intent

The timing of the request to suspend Dublin transfers, which comes one day ahead of an EU summit on migration, has raised questions about political intent.

The EU's migration agenda is dominated by the Mediterranean Sea.

But Hungary wants more attention on the Western Balkan route. Its prime minister, Viktor Orban, on Monday sent a letter to EU Council president Donald Tusk and EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker asking them to help convene a summit in Budapest on the issue.

The EU leaders, on Thursday, will also discuss controversial proposals to relocate up to 40,000 new asylum seekers entering Italy and Greece.

The commission has said countries should accept binding quotas based on GDP and population size.

Its vice president, Kristalina Georgieva, said on Wednesday it's sticking to the proposal because it's "morally right" and because it serves EU "security interests".

But several capitals, including Budapest, have come out against the idea, prompting expectation that leaders will agree to non-binding quotas instead.

“The idea that Brussels might impose quotas is not going to fly and would actually be counterproductive,” one EU senior official said.

A second EU source noted, on Wednesday, that: “Whether it’s going to be mandatory, voluntary, mixed or whatever doesn’t really matter at the end of the day”.

Dust and smoke

“What matters is that you have the political will … to help Italy and Greece by offering 40,000 or close to 40,000 places for relocation. The rest is dust and smoke”.

Gyorkos said the timing of the Dublin decision had nothing to do with the summit. He said Budapest did it because a “physical limit” had been reached.

The toxic nature of the immigration debate in Hungary is visible in its plan to build a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia.

Orban’s government has also plastered anti-migrant billboards in major cities.

Neighbouring Slovakia, a country of 5.4 million, was supposed to take in less than 800 migrants under the commission scheme.

It has also rejected the idea.

Several thousand people in Bratislava last weekend held an anti-quota rally. They chanted racist slogans and some of them attacked a Saudi family, with a small child, in the city’s train station.

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