Hungary hopes Turkey’s invasion of Syria will stop migrants reaching EU

Budapest ready to help settle migrants in Syria if Ankara creates a ‘safe zone’

Prime minister Viktor Orban’s “defence” of the nation against migrants and diatribes against a “meddling” Brussels are broadly popular in Hungary. Photograph: Ferenc Isza/AFP/Getty Images

Prime minister Viktor Orban’s “defence” of the nation against migrants and diatribes against a “meddling” Brussels are broadly popular in Hungary. Photograph: Ferenc Isza/AFP/Getty Images

 

Hungary’s government has broken ranks with the European Union by refusing to condemn Turkey’s invasion of Syria and saying it is in the Hungarian national interest if the incursion stops migrants reaching Europe.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and his foreign minister Peter Szijjarto showed their backing for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week by joining him for a summit of Turkic nations in Azerbaijan.

Mr Erdogan thanked Mr Orban for his support in the international arena, after Mr Szijjarto admitted to blocking “for a long time” an EU statement that urged Turkey to halt an incursion that Brussels fears could create many more refugees.

Mr Szijjarto said the government was “looking exclusively at [Hungary’s] national interests in this matter, not the interests of others.”

“The Hungarian national interest is to avoid another several hundreds of thousands or several million migrants appearing at the Hungarian border,” he said, in apparent reference to the 3.6 million or so refugees and migrants now in Turkey and Mr Erdogan’s threat “open the gates to Europe”.

Mr Szijjarto also said on Tuesday that under certain conditions Hungary would help Turkey resettle displaced people in northern Syria, which is one of Mr Erdogan’s stated aims for his military operation.

“If Turkey establishes a safe zone in Syria to enable the return of families which had to flee Syria, Hungary will be delighted to co-operate with Turkey,” he declared.

EU statement

Hungary wants to help migrants return “in peaceful, calm and safe circumstances”, insisted Mr Szijjarto, who admitted to Hungarian media that he had delayed the release of an EU statement last week that raised concerns about Turkey’s actions.

“The veto is not a rumour. We did indeed block the EU declaration,” he said, adding that Hungary had let it pass on the condition that it be issued not in the name of all EU states but of the bloc’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Mr Orban’s populist government built fences on Hungary’s southern borders in 2015 to block refugees and migrants, and became a driving force among the bloc’s anti-immigration and Eurosceptic politicians.

The EU is taking legal action against Hungary over its draconian asylum policy and reforms that target NGOs and the Central European University that was founded in Budapest by George Soros, the liberal Hungarian-American philanthropist whom Mr Orban accuses of plotting to “flood” Europe with migrants.

Mr Orban’s “defence” of the nation against migrants and diatribes against a “meddling” Brussels are broadly popular in Hungary, but his ruling Fidesz party lost control of Budapest and several other cities in local elections on Sunday, even while dominating in the provinces.

As relations with the EU have frayed, Mr Orban has sought to build stronger relations with the autocratic leaders of Turkey, Russia and China.