Hungary Draws European Ire as Orban Suspends Accord on Refugees

Hungary drew criticism from neighbors after Prime Minister Viktor Orban stepped up his campaign to curb immigration by refusing to take back asylum seekers who enter the bloc via the country’s borders.

The government halted its participation in the Dublin Agreement, which governs the transfer of refugees within the European Union, according to a statement on the cabinet’s website Tuesday. Austria summoned the Hungarian envoy to Vienna and the European Commission asked for “immediate clarification” on the move.

“Hungary’s immigration infrastructure is overloaded, it’s shouldering the biggest burden among EU member states,” the Interior Ministry in Budapest said in the statement.

Orban has threatened to close all refugee camps in the country and is planning to seal the border with Serbia with a four-meter high fence. The government has also started a billboard campaign calling on immigrants to respect the country’s laws and not to take jobs from Hungarians, which the United Nations and opposition parties said is stoking xenophobia.

While Hungary attracts fewer economic migrants as a final destination, its borders with Serbia and Ukraine are used as an entry point to the EU’s Schengen visa-free zone by many trying to reach western Europe.

The European Commission has asked Hungary to clarify the measures taken to remedy the situation, AFP news service reported, citing a commission spokeswoman.

Austria, which has offered help in policing the Serbian border, wants Hungary to stick to the Dublin agreement, Vienna-based news service APA cited Foreign Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner as saying.

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.