Hungary and migrants: Prime minister Viktor Orban’s fence makes agenda clear

He is a man already at war with the EU Commission and fellow member states over human rights and media restrictions and his sidling up to Vladimir Putin

 

Viktor Orban’s campaign against migrants had been running full tilt for several months before he last week announced controversial plans to build a four-metre fence along 175 kilometres of the country’s southern border with Serbia. Hungary’s nationalist, maverick prime minister in April announced plans for a public consultation on immigration that involved sending questionnaires to the country’s eight million citizens that sought views on the link between migration and terrorism. And asked if citizens would back detaining immigrants in special camps. The government’s agenda was clear.

It has erected 1,000 billboard posters to tell asylum-seekers to stick to local laws and not take jobs from Hungarians – the UN rightly responded with its own posters in Budapest subways to highlight the positive contribution of immigrants.

Hungary is certainly challenged by the migration. Some 55,000 undocumented have already crossed its borders this year, mostly heading for Germany or Sweden, and the cabinet estimates as many as 130,000 will arrive this year, making Hungary , the government claims, the most affected EU country in absolute terms .

But Mr Orban is playing a dangerous and reactionary game in whipping up fear of and demonising immigrants as he has also done previously with the Roma, driven in part by a desire to placate voters tempted by the neo-Nazi Jobbik party. He has shown his contempt for the idea of EU solidarity, dismissing the idea of a collective sharing of the influx through quotas as a policy that “borders on insanity”. He is a man already at war with the EU Commission and fellow member states over human rights and media restrictions and his sidling up to Vladimir Putin.

“We have only just torn down walls in Europe; we should not be putting them up,” commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud complains. Refugee groups warn of the dangers of a massive refugee bottleneck in impoverished Serbia. What is clear is that there is no solution without Europe-wide co-operation, and building fences will not work for Hungary or stem the tide.