bne IntelliNews -
Hungary has decided to close its border with Croatia starting midnight on October 17, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto announced after a meeting of the national security committee.
The announcement came just hours after Prime Minister Viktor Orban told an EU summit his county has completed building a razor-wire fence along the border with its fellow EU state. Hungary has already sealed off its border with non-EU Serbia as it bids to halt the massive flow of refugees trying to enter the EU via the western Balkans.
Hungary, which has come under huge criticism from across Europe because of its fence building and brutal treatment of migrants, has to protect the external frontiers of the EU's passport-free Schengen zone, Szijjarto insisted. He blamed the failure of EU leaders to decide on a common force to secure Greece's borders.
“If the EU really does want to find a common response to the migration pressure then a joint European force would be needed to protect Greece’s external borders”, Szijjarto said, according to MTI.
Migrants now will be able to enter Hungary only at official border crossings and submit asylum requests at two transit zones to be set at the border with Croatia. More than 383,000 migrants have entered Hungary so far this year on their way to Germany and other western EU countries. Budapest claims that number is expected to reach 600,000 to 700,000 by the end of the year.
Hungary agreed in early October with its Visegrad Four peers to jointly patrol its southern borders - which constitute an external EU border - to deal with the rising number of refugees. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have already announced they will send troops.
The move to close borders with a fellow EU country are likely to put Hungary in hot water again. The European Commission has already sent a letter to Hungary requesting clarification of the country's recently tightened asylum regulations, a spokesperson for the EU executive confirmed on October 7.
“The commission has sent an administrative letter to the Hungarian authorities on October 6 where we are asking for clarification on a number of issues pertaining to the way Hungary handles asylum and immigration policies and border control”, Mina Andreeva told a daily press briefing in Brussels, according to Portfolio.hu. She added a reply from Budapest is expected within two weeks.
The request represents the first official move by the commission over Hungary’s much criticised new asylum rules. Illegal border crossings are now punishable by prison, while migrants who damage the fence Budapest has built along its southern border with non-EU Serbia have also been incarcerated.
Andreeva declined to comment on the specific concerns the EU has raised with Hungary. However, according to Index.hu they include the move to make it possible to reject asylum claims submitted at the Serbia-Hungary border; the criminal sanctions against those who enter the border across the razor-wire fence; the extended rights granted to soldiers on duty at the borders, and the lack of special regulations concerning refugee children.
According to the news portal, the commission also requested more information about the September clashes at the southern border town of Roszke, and especially about the brutal actions of the Hungarian police.
Amnesty International has also criticised Hungary's response to the migrant crisis, in a report entitled Fenced Out released on October 8. Instead of engaging in collective EU efforts to address the issue, Amnesty said Hungary has moved to build fences along its southern borders, criminalise irregular entry to its territory, and expedite the return of asylum seekers and refugees to Serbia, through its inclusion on a list of safe countries of transit.
“The cumulative effect, and desired consequence, of these measures will be to render Hungary a refugee protection free zone," the report insists. "Ultimately, Hungary’s attempts to insulate itself against a regional, and wider global, refugee crisis can only be achieved at the expense of the respect its international human rights and refugee law obligations."
The Hungarian government has invested more than €100mn in razor-wire fencing and border controls to keep refugees and migrants out. That is triple the amount the country spends yearly on receiving asylum seekers, according to the organisation’s estimates.
Hungary’s policies also represent a structural threat to the rule of law and the respect for human rights that other member states and EU institutions cannot afford to ignore, the organisation said.
“Scrutiny of the human rights situation in Hungary has repeatedly fallen through the cracks, with member states and institutions endlessly passing the buck on who is ultimately responsible for upholding human rights in the EU," Acting Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office Iverna McGowan said. "This gap must be urgently bridged with a stronger response to human rights violations by EU member States and institutions alike."
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