Basic facts about Schengen and the migration crisis that we should all remember

For more than a year and a half, Europe has been confronting a dramatic surge in migration. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was among the first leaders on the continent to call attention to the growing problem when he began speaking frankly early last year about the practical challenges it would pose.

Some have criticized Hungary for taking measures on the southern border that they argue are too stringent. But it’s important to remember some basic facts here.

Hungary’s southern border is not just our national border. It’s an external border of the EU’s Schengen Area. That means we have a responsibility, an obligation, that goes beyond our own national interest. When Hungary beefs up security along the fenced border, creates another transit zone for legitimate asylum seekers and strengthens legislation against people smuggling, we do so out of the obligations we have under Schengen. Without this tough action plan implemented by the government beginning in 2015, unprecedented numbers of illegal migrants attempting the Western Balkan route would have already slipped into the Schengen Area this year.

The latest information from Hungary’s Office of Immigration and Nationality indicates an alarming but predictable increase in attempts to surmount its southern border:

  • Illegal border crossings, frequently accompanied by some use of force, have increased to over 13,000 in 2016.
  • More than 17,000 asylum requests have been submitted in 2016, few of which are from Syrian nationals.
  • 4,772 asylum requests were filed in one of Hungary’s transit zones (Röszke, Tompa, and a new site being built at Ásotthalom), with 3,801 being transferred to refugee reception centers.
  • At the end of May, 712 persons were staying at guarded asylum reception centers managed by the Office of Immigration and Nationality, and 1,510 at open facilities.
  • From September 15 of last year to May 29 this year, 2,714 migrants were required to appear before the Office of Immigration and Nationality: 1,683 submitted asylum requests and 1,031 were found to have been in violation of the law, of whom some 516 have been expelled.
  • A coalition of five charities is delivering aid outside the transit zones, funded by a government grant of 900,000 EUR to help the most vulnerable.

Despite the news from Hungary and elsewhere of more migration pressure, the European Commission continues to push ahead with its mandatory, migrant resettlement quotas and other pro-immigration policies – regardless of whether the citizens are in favor or not. Even if a private consensus has emerged among a number of EU member states that Viktor Orbán’s policies are an effective deterrent, an out-of-touch Commission continues to single-out Hungary, threatening with fines, suspension of EU funding, trumped up infringement procedures.

Why is Hungary being singled out? Hungary maintains a firm domestic policy opposed to illegal immigration. Hungary has reinforced with a physical barrier some 1,100 kilometers of the Schengen border. Hungary has taken the decision to hold a national referendum, asking the citizens to express their view on the EU’s plan to impose mandatory migrant resettlement. Hungary goes to the trouble to stop migrants and register them, according to the rules and attempting to distinguish the legitimate asylum seekers, the war refugees, from countless economic migrants. Hungary remains determined to preserve Schengen, putting forward the Schengen 2.0 proposal to compel Europe to put strong, safe borders first.

Brussels policymakers have lost touch with the real story. They’ve forgotten that Hungary is upholding its obligations codified in its accession to the EU in 2004 and subsequent membership in the Schengen Area in 2007 – when it dismantled its border with fellow Schengen neighbors Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia and transferred manpower and resources along the 1,100 kilometer external Schengen border with Croatia, Romania and Serbia.

Foisting untold numbers of migrants on EU member states according to some Brussels decree goes against the basic principles of the EU and the wisdom of its founders like Robert Schuman who said, "World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it."

As the most recent figures from Hungary in 2016 attest, Brussels should know by now that there is no safeguard until it gets serious about security, strong borders and more realistic methods for handling asylum seekers. Listening to member states like Hungary might be a good place to start.