European Union interior ministers decided on Tuesday to relocate 120,000 refugees from Greece, Italy and other member states directly affected by the migration crisis. Hungary will have to accept some 2,000 refugees over the next two years.
According to a statement released by the European Commission, the relocation is part of a comprehensive approach to deal with the ongoing refugee crisis. Interior ministers are now expected to move forward on the other proposals, including the EU list of safe countries and the further reform of the Dublin system at the next Justice and Home Affairs Council on October 8.
Based on the majority decision – nay votes: Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia – Hungary will have to accept 2,000 refugees “in clear need of international protection” over the course of two years.
An earlier version of the plan would have removed 54,000 refugee seekers from Hungary, so at first glance this seems like a bad compromise. However, the draft dismissed by the government would have designated Hungary as a “hotspot”, requiring the country to set up a refugee camp for tens of thousands of people at the southern border.
“The four Visegrád countries (V4) and western member states of the European Union continue to envisage different ways of resolving the refugee crisis,” Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó told state news agency MTI on Monday. “As regards the challenges facing the EU, I believe that we still wish to provide solutions in a different order.” (Poland, a member of the V4, voted in favour of the relocation proposal.)
Luxembourg ‘s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jean Asselborn, who also participated in the meeting, said: “Luxembourg, which currently holds the European Union Presidency, will do everything within its power to bring about a common solution to the migration problem.” He acknowledged that the differences of opinion were still present following the meeting of the V4.
Szijjártó believes that if the European Union cannot regain control over the Schengen borders and is incapable of ensuring their defence, it will be unable to manage the challenge posed by the problem of migration. “It is clear that the EU is not placing this at the top of its list of priorities but rather the quota system,” he said.
In light of these statements, it is little surprise that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was rumoured to be about to propose a brand-new approach at Wednesday night’s EU summit. (Note: this edition of The Budapest Times went to press before the summit concluded.)
According to Nick Thorpe, the Budapest correspondent of the BBC, Orbán would pitch that “each of the 28 EU members pays 1% of its income from the Union, plus 1% of its contributions to it, into a special fund”. For Hungary this would mean a contribution of about EUR 1 billion. “The proposed special fund would be used to improve conditions in the refugee camps in countries neighbouring Syria – especially Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – and to bolster Europe’s external borders,” the BBC said.
Whether Orbán will be successful remains to be seen but in order to push the plan through he would certainly need assistance from wherever he could get it. And while the V4 seems to be a partner, the diplomatic battles of the past week with neighbouring countries – especially Romania and Croatia – could make it difficult to get help.
On the positive side for Orbán, his proposal seems to be in accordance with what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) suggests the European Union should do. “A relocation program alone, at this stage in the crisis, will not be enough to stabilise the situation,” UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming said in Geneva on Tuesday. “UNHCR has proposed a number of measures towards the wider goal of helping Europe to collectively resolve a situation that can be managed”.
These measures include support for the immediate creation of facilities in Greece – and the expansion of existing ones in Italy – with a robust capacity to receive, assist, register and screen people who arrive by sea, the immediate start of the relocation process and strengthening the mechanisms for the humane return of people not in need of international protection.
In addition, “measures are urgently needed to stabilise the situation in Europe’s neighborhood, including by providing additional humanitarian funding and structural support to countries hosting large refugee populations”, Fleming said.
The UNHCR also urges a substantial and rapid increase in legal opportunities for refugees to access the EU, including enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification and humanitarian and student visas.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said: “This is a crisis of political will combined with lack of European unity that is resulting in management mayhem. When in 1956, 200,000 Hungarians fled to Austria and Yugoslavia, not only were people properly received but a relocation program was quickly put into place and 140,000 people were relocated to other countries. What was possible then should be possible now.”
Article 7 censure ‘not justified’
There is no sufficient reason to activate Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union against Hungary, the head of the opposition Hungarian Liberal Party (MLP), Gábor Fodor, has said in an open letter. Fodor addressed the letter to Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group in the European Parliament. The ALDE group had called for the activation of the procedure after the Hungarian Parliament adopted a package of legislative amendments to the defence law and the adoption of a special law on defence, which ALDE said strengthens the power of the police and the army, authorising them to use firearms against migrants and refugees under certain circumstances. Fodor wrote that ALDE’s reasoning was incorrect because the amendment of the law did not authorise the army to use force unless there was a justified case of self-defence. If the army was indeed authorised to use weapons against the migrants, MLP would support ALDE’s proposal. Fodor said there are good reasons to criticise Hungary on migration issues. But to be fair, it was necessary to admit that all the countries affected had implemented imperfect practices, and the delay in introducing a European solution was also partly to blame for the bad practices seen in Hungary.