Hungary has an obligation to defend the Schengen borders

Protecting the external border of the EU remains essential to maintaining security and the freedom of movement in the Schengen Area

The migration crisis imposes significant burdens on Hungary as well as Europe as a whole. Approximately half of the illegal immigrants entering Europe arrive via the Western Balkans route, which runs through Hungary. In 2015 alone, nearly 400 thousand migrants entered the territory of Hungary.

Hungary’s borders form part of the external border of Europe’s Schengen Area. As a party to the Schengen Agreement, Hungary has a primary responsibility to protect those external borders of the EU. That is the primary purpose of the physical barrier built along the southern border, and that is the purpose of the new legislation recently passed by the Hungarian National Assembly.

With countless numbers of illegal immigrants abusing the EU’s current rules, the new legislation has become an unfortunate necessity. Immigrants submit a request for asylum and, without waiting for a response to the claim, frequently depart to an unknown destination in the Schengen Area. Having abandoned the legal process for requesting asylum, these illegal immigrants move freely throughout the territory of the EU, which poses a serious security risk. Perpetrators of terrorist attacks have also taken advantage of this weakness in the system to enter and leave the EU. On Hungary’s southern border, illegal immigrants frequently claim to belong to a vulnerable group in order to evade the rules of procedure carried out at the border.

The new law requires that immigrants maintain a compulsory place of residence until a decision is taken on their asylum request. According to the new rules, the immigrants must remain in a designated area in the transit zone at the border while waiting for a decision on their refugee status. During this waiting period, they are provided food and accommodation. The new law also includes strong guarantees that children and other especially vulnerable groups have access to the necessary provisions, including, health care. If they wish to do so, immigrants are free to return at any time to the country from which they arrived.

The adoption of the law has an important history. In 2015, more than a million citizens took part in a national consultation on immigration organized by the Hungarian government. Participants in the consultation delivered an overwhelming response in favor of tightening immigration laws. This position was further reinforced by the referendum in October 2016 in which 3.3 million Hungarians, 90 percent of those who participated, rejected the European Commission’s proposed compulsory migrant resettlement mechanism. The Hungarian government’s measures have broad popular support.

Throughout the migration crisis, Hungary has upheld the relevant international and EU rules. With this new law, the government hopes to more effectively protect the Schengen borders, which is a fundamental interest of the Union as a whole. By defending the reinforced borders of Schengen, Hungary does its part for European solidarity.