PM Orbán: Western Balkans migration route reaches dangerous new level

The prime minister said that whereas Serbia and North Macedonia have received support for their anti-migration efforts, new modes of cooperation were needed.

After meeting the Austrian chancellor and the Serbian president in Budapest, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán noted that the Western Balkans is a major migration route to Europe and people smugglers and illegal migrants have reached a dangerous new level, using weapons in standoffs with border guards. Hungary, Austria and Serbia are protecting the whole of Europe, not only their own borders, PM Orbán said. Hungary, he added, meets its Schengen obligations, but it would be in the interest of the whole of Europe to gradually push the line of defence as far south as possible from the Serbia-Hungary border.

The prime minister said that whereas Serbia and North Macedonia have received support for their anti-migration efforts, new modes of cooperation were needed. The next meeting in the current series will be held at the ministerial level in Belgrade to discuss joint action, as well as the financing and manpower needed. A third meeting is slated to be held in Vienna, he added. PM Orbán said illegal migrants must be repatriated and refugee hot spots established outside EU territory for the submission of asylum applications. Transport routes for goods and energy from the east are expected to seize up soon, so routes from the south are becoming especially important, he said, adding that Hungary now saw Serbia as its most important partner “for reaching the world”. “We’re grateful to Serbia,” he said, referring to the gas pipeline feeding Hungary. “While Hungary has gas, Serbia will also have gas; we’ll help one other in one way or another,” he added.

Meanwhile, PM Orbán said rich countries were bailing out their own companies “with huge sums”, but poorer countries were unable to do the same. “Brussels must do something about this, otherwise European unity will be destroyed.” The prime minister called Austria-Hungary ties “pragmatic”, but called for ideological questions to be put aside. “What we need now is concrete solutions rather than doctrines,” he said. Orbán faulted the EU for not providing Hungary financing to build and operate its southern fence. He insisted that rules in Brussels “are foreign to life in this corner of the world”. Migration rules in particular “only cause trouble” here. Orbán called for “a new refugee policy in Brussels”. “But we can’t sit back and wait; we must act,” he said. “We’d be glad for a European solution, but right now European solutions are holding us back,” he said, adding national solutions were the way forward.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer told the press conference that taking action against illegal migration was a decisive security issue for Austria, noting that police from Austria, Serbia and Hungary have enjoyed longstanding cooperation, and this will be expanded. As part of cooperation efforts, he noted, Serbia receives the expertise and technical assistance in returning illegal migrants, as well as help to reduce migration pressure on the North Macedonian-Serbian border. Nehammer said Austria had seen growing numbers of asylum seekers arriving illegally through Serbia and Hungary. He said Aleksandar Vučić’s promise to harmonise Serbian visa rules with EU ones was a signal outcome of the meeting, and this would reduce migration pressure. Vučić noted that a new EU visa policy coming into force on Jan. 1 meant that it would become harder to travel from Serbia to western countries, so Hungary, Austria and Serbia are drafting a joint action plan for the law enforcement forces of the three countries in response. “People in Belgrade have no idea how serious the problems our border guards confront are, but the people … living next to the northern border really do,” he said.