Hungary and Greece are closing their borders to asylum seekers amid the coronavirus outbreak, both countries announced Sunday.
Hungary’s chief security advisor, György Bakondi, said the country was indefinitely suspending accepting asylum seekers to transit zones because of the coronavirus outbreak, local journalist Viktória Serdült reported. Bakondi said new arrivals from Iran, where there have been 978 reported cases and 54 deaths, may pose a danger to those already inside.
As reporter Serdült pointed out, this “effectively shuts down” access to asylum in the country because people without valid visas can only file applications in these transit zones. He added that the chief security advisor “failed to mention that recent Iranian arrivals from Turkey have been living in closed Turkish camps for years, not in Iran.”
The Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, announced that the country would not be accepting any new asylum applications for at least one month. He also said the country’s national security council had decided “to increase the level of deterrence at our borders to the maximum.”
The Greek prime minister had announced increased border security against migrants last week, citing coronavirus concerns.
“Migration is now taking on a new dimension, as flows to Greece include people from Iran – where we have had many cases of coronavirus – and many passing through Afghanistan,” he said at a ministerial meeting on February 27. “Our islands, therefore, already burdened with public health issues, need to be protected twice.”
His announcement on Sunday to halt asylum applications came amid reports of clashes between migrants and police at Greece’s border with Turkey.
Last week, Turkey said it would open its border with Greece to let migrants enter Europe. By Sunday, more than 13,000 had gathered at Turkey’s border with Greece on Sunday in hopes of crossing into the European Union, according to the United Nation’s migration organization. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country can’t handle the number of migrants fleeing Syria’s civil war.
The Daily Express reported on Sunday violence at the border, where migrants threw stones and Greek police fired tear gas.
Around the world, countries are tightening border security and imposing travel restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.
So far, European countries have pledged to keep their borders open amid the coronavirus outbreak, even as the number of cases in Italy has climbed to almost 1,700 and the death toll to 34. Germany has said, however, that it’s tightening border checks amid the outbreak, while countries including France and Switzerland have banned large public gatherings.
In the US, President Donald Trump said on Saturday that his administration was “very strongly” considering closing the southern border with Mexico in response to coronavirus. There have been three reported cases in Mexico, according to CNBC.
The Trump administration announced last month that it would temporarily bar foreigners from entering the US if they had been to China in the last 14 days. The US later extended that ban to any foreign citizen who has visited Iran in the past two weeks.
On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence, who is in charge of the White House coronavirus task force, said that authorities were issuing a level four advisory warning Americans against traveling to specific areas of Italy and South Korea and that the State Department was developing medical screening guidelines to deploy in those countries of individuals coming into the US.
Countries including Australia, Russia, Japan, Pakistan, and Italy have also imposed similar restrictions on admitting foreigners who have traveled in China, according to the BBC.
Israel has blocked entry to travelers coming from Italy unless they are Israeli citizens.
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, said on Thursday that right now, the coronavirus outbreak “can go in any direction based on how we handle it.”
Ghebreyesus added: “This is not a time for fear. This is a time for taking action to prevent infection and save lives now.”