“Hungary is conforming to EU regulations on protecting the European Union’s external borders, the goal being to ensure that people can only enter Hungary, and accordingly the territory of the European Union, after being checked”, the Minister of Interior said on Thursday in Tompa.

At a press conference following his visit to the expanded transit zone, Sándor Pintér stressed that protecting the external Schengen borders is an EU requirement. “We must prevent anyone from illegally crossing the green border”, he added.

The Minister highlighted the fact that border controls would become also become stricter at border crossing stations from Friday, and citizens of third countries will also only be able to cross the border into Hungary after being checked.

Mr. Pintér explained that idea is to keep people who try to enter Hungary while avoiding border crossing stations under supervision in transit zones. These people may submit their requests for asylum at the transit zones in Röszke and Tompa, which have been expanded to house 250 people each, and must wait their for a final decision on their request. Until then, they are being accommodated in suitable conditions and being provided with the necessary care and supplies.

“Nobody in the transit zone is under arrest, everyone is there of their own free will and anyone who does not want to wait for a ruling on their asylum request is free to leave the transit zone at any time in the direction of Serbia”, the Minister of Interior said, adding that any minors who arrive without adult accompaniment are automatically taken inland and housed within the child protection system.

In reply to a question, Mr. Pintér said that every EU country accepts that Serbia is a safe third country, but there is no consensus on whether it is also a safe transit zone. Hungary has decided on principle that all EU member states and prospective members of the European Union shall be regarded as safe countries. According to international law, refugees should submit their requests for asylum in the first safe country they enter, and the Hungarian authorities are investigating every request individually to check that the applicant is in fact the victim of persecution.

Last year, some 900 asylum requests were decided on in transit zones, and about ten percent of people decided to return to Serbia voluntarily. This year, more than eighty people have already received internationally protected status, the Minster told reporters.

In reply to another question, Mr. Pintér said that the Hungarian authorities have an excellent relationship with Romanian partner organisations, who readmit all illegal immigrants, this cannot be said about Serbia, however. The Hungarian Government understands that Serbia is in a difficult situation, and according to estimates there are 7-10 thousand illegal immigrants currently in the country. Accordingly, Hungary understands that Serbia is currently unable to readmit people who arrive illegally from there.

Mr. Pintér also spoke about the fact that Hungarian police are assisting their Serbian colleagues along the Macedonian border, and joint border units are patrolling the Hungarian-Serbian border.

In reply to a suggestion that migrants may have been assaulted at the Hungarian border, the Minster of Interior said that every single complaint is being investigated by the prosecution service, independently of any police investigation. A single report has been proven to be true and the police officer involved was dismissed with immediate effect.

Mr. Pintér said that an investigation by the European Union’s border and coast guard agency Frontex also determined that Hungarian police are performing their duties in a civilised manner. Police units from the countries of the Visegrád Group and Austria, who were on duty along the Hungarian-Serbian border, also came to the same conclusion.

Director General of the Immigration and Asylum Office Zsuzsanna Végh told reporters that the eight unaccompanied minors whose temporary placement in a transit zone had been banned by the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights are young people aged around 18. Zsuzsanna Végh explained that their placement in transit zones had not even been considered and asylum proceedings are only underway with relation to six of them, in view of the fact that two have since left the country.