VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s interior minister said on Wednesday Vienna would take Hungary to court if it refuses to take back migrants who, under European rules widely ignored since last year, are meant to seek asylum in the first European Union state in which they set foot.
Officials in Austria and Hungary say the situation is largely under control a year after their shared border became a focal point of a mass influx of refugees to Europe, many of them heading for Germany.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants travelled from southern European countries further north to Austria, Germany or Sweden, making it impossible to implement the so-called Dublin rules to send migrants back to their initial arrival point in the EU.
Countries in central and eastern Europe, including Hungary, have opposed any European attempts to force states to accept returned migrants or to introduce a quota regime.
“In the main we have a European Dublin regime. The European Union is in charge of … Dublin and states or groups of states that permanently break the law have to expect legal consequences,” Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka told ORF radio.
“In that case, the (Austrian) republic must sue. The republic must see that the European Union acts according to the law, full stop,” Sobotka said when asked about Hungary not accepting migrants sent back under Dublin rules.
The Hungarian government has long declared the Dublin agreement finished. Government officials were not immediately available to respond to Sobotka’s comments.
Austria initially welcomed large numbers of refugees from the Middle East and Afghanistan. However, the government started to toughen its asylum rules earlier this year and introduced an annual limit on the number of asylum requests it accepts.
Those steps, widely criticised by human rights groups and the European Union, came after support for the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) in opinion polls surged ahead of the ruling centrist parties.
The FPO’s candidate might also win presidential elections on Oct. 2 on an anti-immigration platform to become Europe’s first far-right head of state.