Police chase pilot after vintage biplane lands in Hungarian field with migrants

Government targets groups it accuses of helping illegal immigration

Hungarian police with a Ukrainian-registered AN-2 aircraft near Kallosemjen, 242km east of Budapest on Wednesday. Photograph: Zsolt Czegledi/AP

Hungarian police with a Ukrainian-registered AN-2 aircraft near Kallosemjen, 242km east of Budapest on Wednesday. Photograph: Zsolt Czegledi/AP

 

Hungarian police are searching for the pilot of an ageing Ukrainian biplane that landed in a field carrying smuggled Asian passengers, as the Budapest government unveiled new measures targeting groups it accuses of helping illegal migrants.

The An-2 biplane landed on frosty farmland in the village of Kallosemjen, about 70km from the Hungary-Ukraine border, and was found on Monday evening without crew or passengers.

Using thermal-imaging equipment and sniffer dogs, police soon discovered eight Vietnamese and three Afghans who had been on-board. The whereabouts of whoever flew the plane is still a mystery, however, as is where it began its journey and the route it took.

Ukrainian officials said the plane is registered to an owner in Avdiivka, a war-scarred industrial city on the frontline of fighting between government forces and Russian-led separatists, some 1,400km east of the Hungarian frontier.

The Soviet-designed, single-engine An-2 entered service in 1947 and is valued for its strength and versatility. This is believed to be the first time such a plane has been used to smuggle migrants into Hungary.

Transit country

Hungary became a major transit country for refugees and migrants moving north into Europe in 2015, prompting the government of prime minister Viktor Orban to build security fences on its southern borders with Serbia and Croatia.

The European Union is now taking Hungary to court, along with Poland and the Czech Republic, over their rejection of a quota scheme to resettle refugees among member states.

Brussels is also suing Hungary over a law tightening state control over foreign-funded non-governmental organisations and education reforms that target the Central European University financed by liberal billionaire George Soros.

Mr Orban claims the EU is trying to implement a plan devised by the Hungarian-American philanthropist to flood Europe with Muslim immigrants, whom he calls a danger to the continent’s security, culture and identity.

Immigration and the supposed “Soros plan” – which critics of Mr Orban call a crude conspiracy theory – are likely to be the ruling Fidesz party’s main talking points ahead of parliamentary elections due in April.

The government has now unveiled what it calls the “Stop Soros plan”, which it says targets groups that help illegal migrants enter Hungary. Opponents describe it as Mr Orban’s latest attack on civil society groups that criticise him and defend the rights of asylum seekers.

Punitive tax

Officials said foreign-funded groups that are deemed to help illegal immigration would be forced to register and report on their activity under the plan, and their income would be subject to a special punitive tax.

Restraining orders could also be issued against people who help “organise” illegal immigration, and foreign citizens involved in such activity could be banned from Hungary.