Hungary, fearing an influx of illegal immigrants returned by western Europe, wants those migrants to be sent all the way back to Greece, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said.
Hungary was notified by Austria and 10 other EU countries that they intended to return undocumented immigrants to Hungary, the first place of registration for many of them, Szijjarto told reporters in Budapest on Wednesday. Hungarian refugee centers are struggling under “heavy technical pressure,” he said.
“These illegal immigrants first stepped onto EU territory in Greece, not Hungary, so that’s where they should be sent back,” Szijjarto said, adding the government disagrees with the plan to send refugees back to Hungary.
Syria’s civil war, Libya’s disintegration and turmoil in northern Africa have pushed migration to Europe to levels not seen since the early 1990s. While Hungary isn’t often considered a final destination for migrants, it serves as an entry point to the bloc’s visa-free zone because it borders Serbia and Ukraine.
Hungary’s proposal is the latest showing discord in the EU over how to deal with refugees. For Greece, Hungary’s plan would add to the country’s woes as the government in Athens aims to avert a default by striking an agreement with creditors. Hungary wants to start talks with European Commission officials over its proposal, Szijjarto said.
Hungary also confirmed that it would start building a fence on the Serbian border to deter illegal immigrants, over the opposition of the cabinet in Belgrade. EU states including Hungary have rejected a proposal to spread refugees across the bloc based on quotas. EU leaders, meeting in Brussels this week, won’t reach a comprehensive agreement on migration, an EU official said Wednesday.
Hungary temporarily suspended its participation in the Dublin Agreement, which governs the transfer of refugees within the EU, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. Szijjarto said Hungary was abiding by all EU rules.
“We are exploring with the Hungarian authorities what are the technical reasons and the specific circumstances which brought Hungary to suspend, yesterday, its obligations under the Dublin Regulation,” European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said in an e-mail on Wednesday.
Hungary has detained 60,620 undocumented immigrants this year, including 60,089 along the Serbian section of the border, according to the Interior Ministry. The cabinet estimates the number of illegal entries will swell to 130,000 by the end of the year.
The suspension of Dublin rules would be “unacceptable,” Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said on Twitter.