EU nations harden stance over migrants

Hungary and Austria enforce stricter border controls in bid to deal with flood of people

VIENNA • The desperate migrants and asylum seekers flooding into Europe by the tens of thousands, and the inability to accommodate them in an organised way, may be starting to fray Europe's commitment to doing away with old borders.

Hungarian authorities yesterday closed a major train station, then reopened it but prevented migrants from entering it. About 100 police in helmets and wielding batons guarded the station as dozens of migrants who were inside were forced out.

Developments in Budapest led to Germany's interior ministry saying it has not suspended European Union rules that oblige migrants to file for asylum in the first EU country they arrive in.

"The Dublin rules are still valid and we expect European member states to stick to them. Whoever comes to Hungary must be registered there and go through the asylum procedure there," the spokesman said.

Around 1,000 people, waving tickets outside the Hungarian station, clapped, booed, hissed and shouted "Germany! Germany!". Later they sat down, staring down the police blockade at the entrance of the station.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs, when asked why the railway terminus was closed, said Hungary was trying to enforce EU law, which requires anyone who wishes to travel within Europe to hold a valid passport and a Schengen visa, which covers most European countries.

The evidence of stricter border controls was also on stark display at the Austria-Hungary border on Monday, as Austrian authorities, while inspecting vehicles for smuggled migrants, disrupted traffic from Hungary and caused congestion which stretched at least 19km.

The crackdown could last indefinitely.

The official explanation was to avert another mass death of migrants, such as the one that happened in an unventilated truck near Vienna last week, believed to be the work of a smuggling ring.

But the practical consequences mean that routine passport-free travel between Hungary and Austria is no longer routine.

The unfettered movement of people and goods in the EU, the world's largest economic bloc, is a precept of its cohesion, like the free flow within the United States.

In a continent struggling with a unified response to the Greek debt crisis and the movements of militants, the influx of migrants - many of them from war-ravaged areas of the Middle East and Africa - appears to have only further increased frictions.

Long-term questions over who takes care of them, how to screen them and who pays the expenses have all been left unresolved. These questions go to the heart of the viability of the EU's borderless interior, which member countries on the edges of Europe are required to police and protect.

Some of those countries - notably Greece, Italy and Hungary - say they are so economically stressed that they are admitting migrants with little or no processing.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, in some of her strongest language yet on the subject, has warned that freedom of travel among the 28 member states of the EU could be imperilled if they do not agree on a shared response to the migrant crisis.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'EU nations harden stance over migrants'. Print Edition | Subscribe