Hungary breaks ranks with the EU, effectively closing the country to asylum seekers

No going back
No going back
Image: Reuters/Bernadett Szabo
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Europe is struggling to cope with an influx of migrants, and one state in particular—Hungary—has had enough. Budapest suspended a key EU rule governing the transfer of refugees yesterday; it will no longer re-admit asylum seekers who passed through Hungary on their way to other EU countries. The rule requires asylum claims to be processed by the first EU country they enter.

Hungary’s interior ministry said that the country’s asylum system is “over-burdened,” and that illegal immigration has “exhausted the resources at its disposal.” Or, as a government spokesman put it more bluntly, “the boat is full.”

Hungary’s borders with Serbia and Ukraine are popular entry points for migrants to get into the EU—once they enter the bloc, they can travel freely across most of it, with Germany and the UK popular final destinations. So far this year, the Hungarian police have detailed more than 60,000 people trying to cross its non-EU borders illegally, mainly via Serbia.

Hungary received nearly 33,000 asylum applications in the first quarter of this year, second only to Germany in the EU. In relation to its size, Hungary processes far more first-time asylum applications than many fellow EU members:

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán is no stranger to controversy when it comes to challenging European solidarity. “I don’t think that our European Union membership precludes us from building an illiberal new state based on national foundations,” he said in a speech last year, expressing admiration for the way China, Russia, and Turkey are run.

The government’s hostility towards immigrants, before its latest move against asylum seekers, included a provocative billboard campaign (“If you come to Hungary, don’t take the jobs of Hungarians!”) and a plan to build a 4-meter (13-foot) fence along the length of its 175-kilometer (109-mile) border with Serbia. “When something looks too complicated, go back to the basics,” Orbán said last week in a speech about immigration.

Other EU members, especially in eastern Europe, are critical of plans to address Europe’s burgeoning refugee crisis by distributing migrants across the bloc according to a country-by-country quota system. But none have gone as far as Hungary in pushing back against immigration, illegal or otherwise. Needless to say, the European Commission is seeking “immediate clarification” of Hungary’s recent move.