Hungary hails EU chief's refugee quota rejection


Budapest (AFP)

Hungary's rightwing government, a fierce opponent of mass immigration, on Thursday welcomed EU President Donald Tusk's rejection of mandatory refugee quotas.

Tusk called the relocation scheme -- introduced in 2015 at the height of the migrant crisis -- "ineffective" and "highly divisive", in a letter sent to EU leaders ahead of the bloc's two-day summit in Brussels.

He recommended that efforts should instead be directed to securing Europe's borders.

The comments drew stinging criticism including from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, but were hailed by Budapest.

"A serious European leader... has at last spoken a truth that is already widely known," Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in a statement.

"The mandatory relocation quota is ineffective and divisive, and forcing illegal migration is dangerous," he added.

Szijjarto added that the system ran counter to "common sense, European rules and the security of the continent".

"Illegal migration must be stopped, not organised," he said.

More than 1.5 million migrants, many fleeing the civil war in Syria, have reached Europe since 2015. Tens of thousands remain stranded -- often in dire conditions -- in Greece and Italy, two key entry points into the bloc.

Under the controversial EU plan, 160,000 asylum seekers from the two frontline states were to be moved to other EU countries.

But Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have refused to take almost any, prompting the EU in early December to sue the trio in the bloc's top court.

Plans by the European Commission to introduce a permanent mechanism for refugee-sharing for any future crises have also been stalled for months.

Greece on Wednesday said Tusk's statements were "ill-timed" and had no hope of being accepted at the Brussels summit.