Austria warns Hungary it may retaliate in row over migrants

Austria warns Hungary it may retaliate in row over migrants

Austria warns Hungary it may retaliate in row over migrants

A lorry passes the border between Austria und Hungary near St. Margarethen, Austria, June 24, 2015. Reuters Photo

Austria said on June 24 it might be forced to re-instate border controls between it and its European Union neighbor Hungary in response to Budapest refusing to take in asylum seekers sent to it from other EU states. 

The diplomatic row between the two neighbors has further weakened the already fragile unity in Europe over how to respond to the flow of migrants into the block and how the burden of dealing with them should be shared out. 

Several countries on the EU’s periphery say the system for tackling migration is broken, but Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s decision to halt asylum seeker transfers is the most radical step taken by any European leader so far. 

Orban has a history of tangling with Brussels. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, in a barbed joke, once described him as a “dictator”. Orban, meanwhile, is under political pressure at home from an anti-immigrant far-right opposition party. 

Under EU rules migrants have to apply for asylum in the first member state they enter and if they move onto another EU country, they can be sent back to the country where they entered. 

Hungary said it was temporarily suspending accepting such transfers back because it was overwhelmed by migrants, after 61,000 crossed into the country from outside the EU since the start of the year. 

That angered Austria, which is where many migrants head to after passing through Hungary. 

“Hungary’s decision is completely unacceptable for us,” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said on Austria’s ORF radio station. “I expect an explanation.” 

She said she expected there would be clarification from Budapest in the next few days, but that if that did not happen, “we do not rule out border controls as a last resort.” 

That would involve passport checks on the Austrian-Hungarian border - something that has not happened since the two countries nearly a decade ago implemented the Schengen agreement on border-free travel. 

Austria this month stopped processing asylum requests in an effort to pressure other European Union member states to do more to help absorb waves of refugees.