VIENNA (Reuters) - Hungary has unilaterally suspended European Union asylum rules that require it to take back refugees who first enter Hungary, then travel to other countries, a government spokesman said in a prepared statement.
"Hungary's asylum system is overburdened, the most overburdened among EU member states affected by illegal immigration," the spokesman said. The asylum rules, known as the Dublin Regulation, were first drafted in the early 1990s. They require people seeking refuge to do so in the European country where they first set foot.
Today's suspension means Hungary is refusing to take back refugees who landed in Hungary, then traveled to another country. So far this year, more than 60,000 immigrants have crossed into Hungary illegally, the government said.
Earlier this month, the country's anti-immigrant prime minister, Viktor Orban, said the era of multiculturalism is over and Hungary should be spared its effects at all costs..
"Hungary has used up the capacities at its disposal," the government statement said. "The situation requires fast action; in this escalated situation Hungary needs to take a move ahead of EU decisions."
Suspending the Dublin Regulation particularly affects neighboring countries, such as Austria. A spokesman for the Austrian interior ministry said it was pushing "to find a solution as quickly as possible."
Austria itself has stopped processing asylum requests in an effort to pressure other EU countries to do more to help absorb waves of refugees pouring into the continent.
It had 21,000 asylum requests in the first five months of the year, according to the interior ministry. By comparison, it got around 17,000 requests in all of 2013 and 28,000 in 2014.
A quarter of those requests fall under Dublin rules, the ministry said. That is, the refugees came to Austria from another European country, which should handle their asylum requests.
Hungary's move is likely to exacerbate Austria's refugee problems. Provincial governments have already started refusing to meet their quotas for housing asylum seekers, leaving the federal government in a lurch to stem the steady influx of migrants.
One Vienna migrant center alone has up to 700 asylum seekers who do not have a bed to sleep in and no bathroom because the federal government doesn't have accommodation for them. They sleep in garages, some of them outside, provided with blankets, the spokesman said.
(Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; Additional reporting by Krisztina Than in Budapest; Editing by Larry King)