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Hungary unilaterally suspends EU asylum rules

AFP / Csaba Segesvari I Migrants walk at the border between Hungary and Serbia near Szeged, Hungary, on June 23, 2015.

Hungary’s anti-immigration government said Tuesday it has unilaterally suspended European Union rules on asylum seekers that state a migrant's claim should be processed in the EU country that they first set foot in.

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Known as the Dublin Regulation, the EU rule means that member states are required to take back refugees who arrive in the country but then travel on elsewhere.

Hungary is in Europe's passport-free Schengen zone, which means that once migrants have arrived in the country, they can travel freely in the other 25 nations in the bloc.

The EU commission said immediately after Hungary’s announcement that it has asked the country’s government to explain the suspension.

It said that Hungary had told other states that the suspension was due to a “technical failure”.

"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," a Commission spokeswoman said in a statement to the AFP news agency.

Hungary says ‘overburdened’ by refugees

However, a Hungarian government spokesperson said the decision to suspend the EU rules was made because the country’s asylum system was “overburdened”.

“Hungary has used up the capacities at its disposal,” the spokesperson said in a prepared statement. “The situation requires fast action; in this escalated situation Hungary needs to take a move ahead of EU decisions.”

So far this year, more than 60,000 immigrants have crossed into Hungary illegally, the government said.

Judith Sunderland, senior Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the Dublin Regulation had “clear problems” in that it places an “unfair share of responsibility … on frontline states like Hungary”.

However, she added that Hungary’s unilateral suspension of the Dublin Regulation “smacks more of demagoguery”.

“[It] sends a deeply unhelpful message at a time when all EU countries should be talking about how to ensure safe and legal channels into the EU, not how to lock the door and throw away the key,” she told FRANCE 24.

The move is the latest by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban to curtail immigration to the country and follows the announcement last week that Hungary plans to build a 175-kilometre-long “anti-migration” fence on its border with Serbia.

The government also recently launched an anti-migrant billboard campaign that carried slogans such as “If you come to Hungary, you cannot take Hungarians’ jobs”.

Orban, who declared earlier this month that the era of multiculturalism is over, has frequently provoked outcry and sparked accusations of xenophobia from rights groups with his anti-immigration rhetoric and policies.

Earlier this year, the UN's refugee agency the UNHCR said it was “deeply concerned” by the way the Hungarian government “vilifies” refugees from war-torn country’s such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Move likely to upset neighbours

The decision to suspend the Dublin Regulation is likely to cause consternation among some of Hungary’s EU neighbours who will be the next stop for the most refugees arriving in the country.

Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl Leitner strongly condemned Hungary's decision.

"Anyone who wants to have a Europe without borders needs to respect the Schengen rules. Of course this also means respecting the Dublin rule."

Austria itself has stopped processing asylum requests in an effort to pressure other EU countries to do more to help absorb waves of refugees pouring into the continent.

It had 21,000 asylum requests in the first five months of the year, according to the interior ministry. By comparison, it got around 17,000 requests in all of 2013 and 28,000 in 2014.

A quarter of those requests fall under Dublin rules, the ministry said. That is, the refugees came to Austria from another European country, which should handle their asylum requests.

Europe is currently experiencing one of its worst migrant crises in decades due to a massive influx of refugees fleeing warzones in the Middle East and Africa.

At an EU summit taking place on Thursday, leaders are due to discuss a European Commission proposal to redistribute migrants arriving by boat in Italy and Greece from across the Mediterranean.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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