Budapest released hundreds of foreign prisoners convicted of people smuggling, and gave them just 72 hours to leave the country.
Austria’s government on Monday asked Hungary for explanations as it stepped up security along the countries’ shared border following Budapest’s decision to grant early release to convicted people smugglers.
The decision to release several hundred convicts has “a direct impact on our security,” the Austrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry expects “an immediate and comprehensive clarification from Hungary,” the statement said, adding that Hungary’s ambassador to Austria had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Vienna for an urgent meeting Monday afternoon.
Austria’s Interior Minister, Gerhard Karner, tightened border controls over the weekend while Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg discussed the matter with his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto, on Sunday.
Hungarian officials said the release of the convicted people smugglers, all of whom are foreign nationals, was intended to free up space in Hungarian prisons and unburden taxpayers. The prisoners must leave Hungary within 72 hours of their release, according to a government decree.
“As long as there is overcrowding in the prisons … it is a correct decision that we don’t want to use Hungarian taxpayer money to finance the care of several hundred human smugglers,” Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, said earlier this month.
Hungary is a strident opponent of irregular migration to Europe, and Orban has often stressed that migration threatens to replace the continent’s Christian culture.
The Central European country lies along the Balkan migration route, a popular corridor where migrants and refugees from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere travel in an effort to reach the European Union.
Austria criticised the decision the smugglers’ release as a contradiction to Hungary’s own stance on migrants.
“The justification that imprisoning human traffickers with foreign nationalities is too expensive is diametrically opposed to Hungary’s previously self-declared hard line against human trafficking,” the Austrian Foreign Ministry statement said.