Hungary will close its border with Croatia to stem the flow of thousands of migrants arriving daily unless European Union leaders agree on a joint task force to halt them at Greece’s border, Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Reuters on Thursday.
“We have urged Greece and the European Council to put together a joint European force to protect the external Schengen border,” he was quoted as saying. “Unfortunately, this decision has not been made. If this decision is not made during the European Council meeting today and tomorrow, we really have to put it into serious consideration to protect the Schengen zone at the Croatian-Hungarian border.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was attending the meeting, saying head of it that he would be able to say after the EU summit and a Visegrad Group meeting if and when he would close the border with Croatia. He said that would be the second best solution, while the best would be to close the Greek border.
Szijjarto said the border with Croatia would be sealed off as it was done with the Serbian border in September, which prompted the migrants to head for Croatia as a transit country on their way to western Europe. “It would exactly look like the practice on the Serbian border. It would (be) exactly the same,” he said, adding that there would be no “corridor” for migrants towards the west.
He said Hungary had informed its southern neighbour, Slovenia, as well as Austria and Germany about the plans. All three, like Hungary, are in the Schengen zone, whereas Croatia is not yet.
If the border with Croatia is sealed, the migrants could turn towards tiny Slovenia, or they might be stranded in Croatia, where the weather is getting colder and the authorities are already struggling with the scale of the influx, Reuters said.
“If we seal off the green border, it is only going to be possible to come into Hungary in a regular way, through border crossing stations and in case of absence of valid travel documentation by submitting the request for asylum,” Szijjarto said.
Hungary created two so-called transit zones on its border with Serbia, where migrants can submit an asylum request, but most such requests are rejected, because Hungary considers Serbia a safe country for refugees, Reuters said, adding that Hungary has also clamped down on illegal crossings of the border fence, punishing migrants with expulsion in court.
Szijjarto said that if Croatia as an EU member sticks to European regulations and registers asylum seekers, they will have to stay in Croatia until their request has been processed.
“If Croatia does not register these asylum seekers, then they have to submit their request for asylum at the Hungarian-Croatian border in case of absence of travel documentation. It is going to be a totally changed situation,” he said. “With a strict protection of our southern borders … we give the message that it does not make sense to hit the road.”
According to Hungarian police data, 5,000 to 8,000 migrants crossed the Croatian border each day in recent weeks and were shipped in an organized way by police to the Austrian border.
Szijjarto said Croatia should be ready for the border’s being closed, as its prime minister had issued a statement claiming that “they can handle the situation better than Hungary.” “If this is a statement we have to believe him, because he is the prime minister,” he added.
“Austria is also aware that this might happen. I talked to my German colleague and the Germans are aware that we could make this kind of decision,” he said. (Hina)