Tuesday 21 November 2017

EU split as Hungary slams migrant quota plan

Hungarian PM Victor Orban
Hungarian PM Victor Orban
A refugee and her small daughter arrive at the train station in Hegyeshalom, Hungary, yesterday

Dan Nolan

The EU migrant quota plan to relocate thousands of migrants across the continent is "unfeasible, unrealisable and nonsense", Hungary's foreign minister said, as Europe's east-west division was laid bare yesterday.

As EU leaders met in Brussels to approve a plan to relocate 120,000 migrants, Péter Szijjártó called the quota scheme a waste of time.

Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary voted against the plan to take in refugees and migrants from Italy and Greece but it was forced through on Tuesday.

Under the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's plan, Hungary would receive 1,294 of the 120,000 to be shared by the EU countries.

But instead, the Hungarian government supports a pan-EU Greek border protection initiative which would deploy helicopters and infrared cameras to catch migrants, with European border agency Frontex and Greece setting numbers on troops and border guards.

Budapest suggested that the EU should then fund refugee camps for Syrians and finance new camps if required.

Splits within the EU on the relocation of migrants were further exposed as leaders met in Brussels.

Slovakia is launching a legal challenge to mandatory quotas that were passed in a majority vote. Meanwhile, Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, has proposed a radical budgetary revamp to raise funds.

The summit focused on tightening EU borders and aiding neighbours of Syria, from where many migrants come.

Draft proposals discussed at the summit included donating at least €1bn to UN aid agencies to help Syrian refugees, according to reports.

More staff could be supplied to shore up Europe's external borders and in the western Balkans, through which many migrants pass.

Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and other countries neighbouring Syria could also receive support.

European Council President Donald Tusk called for "a concrete plan" to secure the EU's external borders, "in place of the arguments and the chaos we have witnessed in the past weeks".

As she arrived at the summit, Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite said it was "not a lack of European unity, but a lack of European wisdom" that had led to this point.

On arriving, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK would be giving another £100m (€136.5m) to help Syrian refugees, including £40m (€54.6m) towards the World Food Programme.

"We need to do more to stabilise the countries and the regions from which these people are coming," he said.

The scale of the problem was highlighted again yesterday when Croatia revealed that 44,000 migrants - including 8,750 on Tuesday - had arrived there since Hungary completed a fence along its border with Serbia last week.

Meanwhile, Mr Szijjártó described the EU plan as a waste of time and said: "The plan is unfeasible, unrealisable and nonsense." He listed Hungary's three proposals for a solution to the problem: "We must establish a joint EU force that is capable of protecting Greece's borders, EU funding must be provided to existing refugee camps, and transit countries must be given financial assistance.

"One of the many reasons the compulsory quota system is unsatisfactory is that many more people have entered the European Union since the original debate on the distribution of 120,000 immigrants."


The foreign minister also sent a letter of protest to the Croatian foreign ministry after Hungary's southern neighbour announced that it would only reopen the Serbo-Croatian migrant hotspot border station between Sid and Tovarnik. Serbian authorities said it would restart sending some migrants and refugees towards Hungary.

Meanwhile, Mr Orban accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of "moral imperialism" and of trying to impose her vision of an open EU on the rest of the bloc.

"The most important thing is that there should be no moral imperialism," he said during a visit to the southern German state of Bavaria.

Mr Orban said his country had a "democratic right" to a different approach but recommended a global solution to the crisis. "We should involve the whole world in the handling of this refugee crisis, migrant crisis, or as we Hungarians call it - people's migration."


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