Hungary unilaterally suspended a European Union asylum program on Tuesday, citing a burden from illegal immigrants, challenging the EU leadership before a summit on the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government refused to comply with EU regulations that dictate how asylum seekers are handled, prompting the European Commission to demand an immediate explanation for Budapest’s actions. Orban also reportedly referred to one solution that would force EU nations to take on Mediterranean migrants as one that “borders on insanity.”
“The boat is full,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told Austrian media Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse. “We all wish for a European solution, but we need to protect Hungarian interests and our population.”
Hungary received more asylum seekers per capita -- about 43,000 -- in 2014 than any other EU nation except Sweden, and government figures reportedly show that about 60,000 migrants have entered the country so far this year, mostly through Serbia, according to Reuters, which cited official data.
Orban also sparked international condemnation when Hungary announced last week that it would build a 13-foot-high fence across its border with Serbia to deter immigrants.
The European Commission claims that Hungary’s latest move violates its commitments under the Dublin III regulation, which calls for asylum seekers to be processed in the country they arrive in.
“Hungary has informed member states ... that the suspension is due to technical reasons and for an uncertain period of time,” a spokeswoman for the commission said. “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.”
Hungary's latest move also comes a day before EU leaders are set to discuss possible solutions to a surge in asylum seekers coming from war-torn Libya, who mostly land in Italy and Greece. The summit will also see discussions on boosting aid, discouraging economic migration and expediting the return of refugees whose asylum applications have been denied.
The move also comes one day after EU forces announced the launch of a naval mission against people traffickers to be conducted in international waters. Meanwhile, the air force of Libya’s internationally recognized government has warned that any vessels that enter its territorial waters without permission would find themselves under attack.
Europe is facing an unprecedented migration crisis as people fleeing the violence in the Middle East and parts of Africa are using Libya and neighboring countries as launch pads to attempt a perilous crossing across the Mediterranean. Over 3,700 migrants were rescued in the past two days alone, Italy’s coast guard said Tuesday. The country estimates that about 60,000 people have made it into Europe this year through the Mediterranean, and the U.N. estimates that almost 2,000 died during the crossing.