Hungary’s Borders Are EU’s Borders

As the number of illegal border crossings continues to skyrocket — reaching nearly 72,000 already this year — Hungary is taking additional measures to address the challenge, introducing new laws that will help identify more quickly the genuine asylum seekers who deserve protection and manage more effectively those who are attempting to immigrate illegally.

Last month’s EU summit offered some progress. It softened up on the quota system on member states, giving Hungary and Bulgaria special exemptions, but more importantly it affirmed that extraordinary circumstances — like this huge increase in illegal immigration — sometimes require extraordinary measures, and individual member states should be free to act as appropriate. Afterall, Hungary’s borders are also the EU’s borders.

New legislation introduced in parliament earlier this week aims to do just that. The bill attempts to crack down on those who try to exploit the asylum rules to immigrate illegally. It speeds up and makes more cost-effective the procedure for investigating the identity of asylum seekers and, importantly, allows authorities to detain asylum seekers until court proceedings on their cases are completed. That was something we could not do under the EU rules, which made it easy for those crossing the border illegally to simply claim asylum and then disappear, often moving on to another EU country.

The legislation also allows Hungary to deny refugee status based on a national security risk exemption and limits the rights of those who have submitted asylum requests multiple times. Under the new law, those who have requested refugee status may be employed in the public work scheme.

The decisions adopted at the EU summit at the end of June are in line with the interests of Hungary and the Hungarian people, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told press at the conclusion of the summit. The plan to impose a quota system on member states, a proposal that many leaders had opposed and that PM Orbán had called an “insane idea,” was voted down. Only refugees in the existing camps in Italy, Greece and outside the EU could be accepted by other member states — on a voluntary basis — and Hungary and Bulgaria will be exempt from this measure due to the already heavy burden of illegal immigration that the two countries are confronting.

According to Frontex, the EU’s own border protection agency, the highest number of illegal border violations in the EU were registered in Hungary in the first six months of 2015. According to President of the European Council Donald Tusk, the EU is preparing a security policy to handle these new challenges, recognizing the growing problem it faces on the border with the Balkans.

In a joint press conference earlier this week with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos emphasized that “the European Commission supports Hungary.”

“Hungary is no longer on its own,” he said. “Europe stands by and cooperates with Hungary in order to resolve the difficult situation posed by illegal migration in the spirit of solidarity.” Avramopoulos acknowledged that awareness is growing of the seriousness of the situation in Hungary and that Hungary cannot be condemned for erecting a fence to protect its southern border — just like other member states have done.

The southern fence is not against “our Serbian friends,” the prime minister said in his remarks to the press. “if there is a country which has experienced what it is like when tens and hundreds of thousands of people run for their lives, it must be Hungary, which provided shelter for everyone during the war in the Balkans.” Rather, the proposed fence is to create a barrier against the illegal immigrants, who pose as asylum seekers, even though they come through safe countries before illegally crossing the Hungarian border. The immigrants arriving in Hungary usually first enter the territory of the EU at the border of Bulgaria or Greece. “The Greeks are not catching economic migrants at their own borders,” a ministry of interior official said during this week’s parliamentary session.

“It is a must for us to speak in a tone of compassion on account of the debt burden that is currently weighing heavy on Greece, but even in this situation we expect them to meet their obligations [because] in the absence of fulfilling these obligations, they create a difficult situation for Hungary,” the Prime Minister said, adding that to date, Greece has been given 130–160 million EUR for the purpose, while Hungary has received 1–1.5 million EUR.
Recently, the media was full of reports about Hungary suspending the Dublin criteria — a system that is set up to handle asylum requests within the EU. This has been ironed out as well. “Hungary has not repealed or suspended anything,” PM Orbán said.

According to the prime minister, 11 countries had notified Hungarian authorities that they plan to send 15,000 asylum-seekers, who originally registered in Hungary, back to Hungary. The government has not suspended the Dublin rules but merely asked for a few days of respite in the sending of these alleged asylum-seekers back to Hungary. That is simply because current resources are stretched to the limit, everyone is working day and night at the southern border. But in the longer run, the Dublin regime is failing. The system, he said, is “not viable and should be reviewed, and while Hungary continues to apply the current regulations also in the interim, we are urging their alteration within the shortest possible time.”

The EU summit in June did not solve everything, but Hungary’s position, the serious challenge of protecting a common, southern border finally got a fair hearing. And now we are taking additional, sometimes extraordinary measures appropriate to meet that challenge.

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