On Monday, Hungary started building a 13-foot-high fence along its 109 mile southern border with Serbia to try to stop illegal migrants entering from the south. This decision came after the parliamentary approval of a fast-track amendment, aimed at speeding up procedures for assessing the claims of asylum-seekers and to turn back economic migrants as quickly as possible.
So far, more than 80.000 migrants have crossed Hungarian borders, placing the country as the focal point for what has become Europe’s most heavily migration route. While Serbia is not yet a member of the European Union, though it has started accession talks, Hungary is part of the European Union’s passport-free Schengen zone; thus, once in Hungary, migrants can easily travel onwards to other countries in the zone.
Many of them are from Kosovo and are actually economic migrants. But there are, among them, also asylum-seekers from Syria and other more distant countries, who have entered the European continent via Greece and Macedonia to travel on to wealthier parts of the EU.
The decision to build a wall is one of Hungary’s latest anti-immigration policies and it comes after the EU’s failure to agree on migrant quota plan, which the Hungarian Government considered “insane” and time-consuming.
Thus, with the aim to protect country’s interests, the Hungarian authorities had unilaterally declared their indefinite opt-out of the so-called Dublin III regulation, because of the surging migrants’ inflows. While this latter decision has been immediately reversed, the new approved rules will allow authorities to cancel asylum requests if the petitioners leave their designated residence for more than 48 hours without authorization, and will prolong the detention of asylum seekers.
Indeed, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban wants to shorten the time frame for screening asylum claims and to reject claims from those migrants who on their journey from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq have already passed through safe countries without requesting asylum.
The United Nations’ criticism
The United Nations expressed criticisms about the changes to Hungary’s asylum laws that could harm asylum-seekers’ right to search for safety there and could have “fatal consequences” for refugees fleeing war. “Apart from failing on moral and basic humanitarian standards, the proposed amendments are not in line with Hungary’s obligations under international treaties,” the UNHCR said. In an open letter to Hungarian lawmakers, the UNHCR regional representative in Central Europe, said that while every country had the right to defend its borders and protect its citizens, the adopted amendments “would make it impossible for people fleeing persecution to access international protection in Hungary.”
The reaction of the European Union
The Hungarian government’s announcement also touched the entire European Union, which condemned the Hungarian initiative as detrimental both to the Schengen agreements and the Dublin III regulation. In particular, the Hungarian decision to suspend a key EU rule on the processing of asylum claims, though immediately reversed by the Government, caught by surprise the European Union and rose tensions between neighbors’ countries.
Indeed, after the government announced it would suspend the regulation, the European Commission demanded an immediate explanation from Hungary. “As the Dublin rules do not foresee the suspension of transfers by the receiving Member States, the Commission has asked Hungary for immediate clarification on the nature and extent of the technical failure, and on the measures taken to remedy the situation,” said a Commission spokeswoman.
Nevertheless, facing the exhaustion of “resources at their disposal” to handle the overburdened asylum system, the EU Commission has pledged to send financial aid and experts to Hungary in order to help the country to tackle with the influx of migrants and asylum seekers arriving via Serbia.
But, at the end of the day, “the Hungarian case” reveals another sensitive issue: the need to reform the EU asylum and migration system. The so-called Dublin system sets out the criteria for deciding which European Member State has responsibility for dealing with an asylum application. Nevertheless, given the soaring number of refugees, the system is coming under increasing pressure and it shows its unfairness to both asylum seekers and Member States.
From this point of view, Hungary is not the only European country to adopt restricted measures to tackle with migration flows.Bulgaria has already built a fence along its border with Turkey; France is stepping up border controls on its borders with Italy. Recently, Austria also announced that it would suspend asylum applications, while Italy, which is pushing for an integrated EU approach to migration, said that it would go for Plan B on migration if Europe failed the solidarity test.
In this context, Members States should reinforce EU standards in asylum policies and harmonized them in order to ensure the respect of asylum seekers fundamental rights as individuals, and, as far as possible, to grant an equitable and shared responsibility for hosting them and determining their claims.
The way forward lies in solidarity between Member States. Only in this way Europe could face the migration challenge and preserve fundamental rights on which it was founded.