Coronavirus: European Union to investigate Hungary’s decision to stop asylum applications

Government of Viktor Orban claims migrants are spreading coronavirus

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks as he attends a news conference during the summit of the Visegrad Group (V4) countries, in Prague, Czech, Republic March 4, 2020. REUTERS/David W Cerny
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The European Union is to investigate Hungary’s decision to stop asylum seekers’ access to transit zones because of fears migrants could spread coronavirus.

The move by Hungary led by the highly anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has led to accusations that the government is seizing upon a global health crisis to enforce its hard-line values.

Those without a valid visa can only apply for asylum in the transit zones since March 2017 according to The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to support refugees, inmates and victims of government violence. It said the move “effectively shuts down access to asylum”.

Speaking to Hungarian paper Nepszava, EU spokesperson for migration and home affairs, Adalbert Jahnz, said any actions to stop the spread of the virus should be based on risk analysis and scientific advice, and should be proportionate to the size of the threat.

He added that any move must be in line with EU laws on asylum seekers. Hungary is a member of the bloc.

The move to block access to the transit zones led to criticism from Gerald Knaus, the chairman of the European Stability Initiative think tank.

“Viktor Orban used this moment to abolish the right to asylum. Of course he would. This crisis is what he was waiting for since 2015. He senses that this may be the moment EU abandons refugee convention,” he wrote on Twitter.

Gyorgy Bakondi, national security adviser to the prime minister, had said there was a link between coronavirus and migration. There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Hungary.

On Wednesday Mr Orban claimed some 130,000 migrants had already passed the Turkish-Greek border into the Balkans.

“It won’t be enough to defend the Greek-Turkish border. As a last resort… we will defence Europe’s external border,” the controversial leader said.

Mr Orban, who is holding talks with his opposite numbers from Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, also claimed his government’s hard-line policies against migration were becoming commonplace in Europe and have been a “success”.

The four countries have been known for their tough stance against migrants and rejected an EU plan to redistribute refugees in member states.

Mr Orban had already instructed his security chiefs to form a plan to strengthen the borders and pay increased attention to migration.

One of the most vociferous opponents of Muslim immigration into Europe, Mr Orban won a third term in power in 2018. He has become a key figure in an increasingly prominent group of conservative European leaders who have vocally opposed immigration.

During the peak of the migration crisis in 2015, he effectively sealed Hungary’s southern border with a fence. Hungary was a transit route for hundreds of thousands of migrants heading through the Balkans to western Europe.

Greece has also announced it is not accepting asylum applications but has been described by the EU as Europe’s “shield” in the face of a possible surge of migrants trying to get into the bloc. Brussels is to give Athens hundreds of millions of Euros to deal with a potential rise in illegal crossing attempts.