BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The Latest on the flow of migrants into Europe (all times local):
Hungary’s prime minister is expected to keep migration as a key issue on his agenda after low turnout invalidated a referendum against EU refugee quotas but showed nearly unanimous support for the government position among its supporters.
Analysts said Monday that Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party will use their voters’ aversion to migrants to distract from unpleasant matters like corruption and difficulties in the health sector.
Support in the referendum for Orban’s opposition to future EU schemes to relocate asylum seekers within the bloc exceeded 98 percent, but only 40.4 percent of eligible voters cast valid ballots, far below the 50 percent-plus-one-vote threshold.
Hungary is also suing the EU to avoid taking in 1,294 asylum seekers from the 160,000 sought to be relocated from Greece and Italy.
The European Union has sealed a deal with Afghanistan to speed the return of Afghans who do not qualify for asylum, just ahead of a donor conference in Brussels for the conflict-torn country.
Under the deal announced Monday, Afghanistan commits to readmit citizens not permitted to stay in Europe and supply travel documents for migrants without papers within a month.
The costs for sending people back will be covered by the EU.
At an international donors’ conference on Wednesday, the EU is expected to pledge 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) a year to Afghanistan through till 2020.
The efficient handling of migrants does not appear to be a condition for receiving the funds.
A spokesman for the European Union’s executive arm agrees with Hungary’s electoral commission that a weekend referendum on EU migrant quotas was invalid due to insufficient voter turnout.
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Monday that because than less than the required 50 percent of voters took part in referendum on Sunday, the vote was “declared legally void by the Hungarian electoral commission.”
Hungary has staunchly opposed a Commission scheme to redistribute 160,000 refugees from overwhelmed Greece and Italy among other EU member countries.
Most of the 43 percent of voters who did cast ballots Sunday supported Budapest’s opposition to future, mandatory EU moves to relocate asylum-seekers.
Schinas said: “We respect the democratic will of the Hungarian people, both of those who voted and of those who did not.”
Serbia’s president says the Balkan country will seal its borders to stop migrants if the European Union countries further along the migration route fully block their boundaries against people fleeing war and poverty.
Tomislav Nikolic said Monday that Serbia must avoid becoming a dead end from where migrants can no longer move forward. He says that at that point Serbia “will have to close its border for migrants … because they don’t want to be here.”
Serbia has been toughening its policies lately after increasing numbers of migrants have entered the country looking for ways to cross into EU members Croatia or Hungary.
Serbia already has stepped up patrols along its borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria to minimize the influx. There are some 6,000 migrants currently in the country.
This story has been corrected from an earlier version to show that a European Commission representative speaking about Hungary’s referendum is a spokesman, not spokeswoman.