Orban calls EU migration deal ‘great victory’ for central Europe

Balkan states resist plan to create migrant ‘disembarkation platforms’

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and German chancellor Angela Merkel:  “Hungary will not become an immigrant country; Hungary will remain a Hungarian country,” said Mr Orban. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and German chancellor Angela Merkel: “Hungary will not become an immigrant country; Hungary will remain a Hungarian country,” said Mr Orban. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq

 

Central European leaders have hailed a EU summit deal that will not oblige them to take in refugees, while Balkan states insist they will not host major migrant camps amid plans for “disembarkation platforms” outside the bloc.

An agreement reached in the early hours of Friday foresees the creation of “controlled centres” in EU states that are willing to host them, where migrants’ asylum claims can be assessed to separate likely refugees from so-called economic migrants, with the latter being sent home.

EU leaders also backed a call “to swiftly explore the concept of regional disembarkation platforms, in close co-operation with relevant third countries” and the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and migration agency (IOM).

North African states are seen as the most likely sites for such facilities, to stem the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Italy, but Balkan countries worry that they could be possible venues amid a sharp rise in migrants transiting the region.

In a dawn Facebook post titled “After the battle”, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said he was “tired but also satisfied” after “a great victory” for the so-called Visegrad group comprising Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

“The threat was upon us that they would start the resettlement of migrants into European states from the refugee camps that will be set up. We managed to fend off this proposal and have our proposal approved, which clearly states that nobody can be resettled to another country without [its] consent,” he added.

“Thus Hungary will not become an immigrant country; Hungary will remain a Hungarian country.”

Hungarian fences

Mr Orban built fences on Hungary’s southern borders to block refugees and migrants in 2015, when more than one million people from the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa trekked along the “Balkan route” into the heart of Europe.

He has spearheaded opposition to German-led plans for a quota system to distribute refugees around the EU, and his anti-immigration rhetoric and demands for tighter border security are now echoed widely in central Europe and beyond.

Like Hungary and the Czech Republic, Poland is facing EU legal action over its refusal to accept any refugees, and its premier, Mateusz Morawiecki, said he was “very satisfied” with the EU agreement.

“This is a very good compromise. We have achieved what we set out to achieve,” he added.

It is not clear, however, who will host the “controlled centres” in the EU or the “disembarkation platforms” outside its borders, what those states will receive in return and how the system will overcome major ethical and logistical challenges.

“Being rescued in the Mediterranean must not automatically become a ticket to central Europe,” warned Austria’s anti-immigration chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

Access via Croatia

More than 6,500 migrants have entered Bosnia this year – compared with only about 750 in 2017 – from Serbia and via a new Balkan route through Greece, Albania and Montenegro, as they try to reach wealthy EU countries via member state Croatia.

Officials in Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania have all insisted that they will not become a “dumping ground” for migrants.

“We will never accept such EU refugee camps,” Albanian prime minister Edi Rama told Germany’s Bild newspaper last week.

“These camps would mean dumping desperate people somewhere like toxic waste that nobody wants,” he added.

Bosnian security minister Dragan Mektic also vowed his country would not be turned into an “asylum reception centre”.

“I don’t care about anybody’s money, not even the EU’s money – refugee camps will not be built in Bosnia,” N1 television quoted him as saying.

At the summit, EU leaders also agreed to launch membership talks with Macedonia and Albania by the end of 2019, if they successfully implement judicial and anti-corruption reforms.