bne IntelliNews -
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has defended Hungary’s chaotic handling of the thousands of refugees trying to cross his country, adding that the migrant crisis is not a European problem but rather “a German problem".
The populist Hungarian premier has mounted a tough campaign against immigrants and enjoys attacking Brussels to play to his domestic audience. His latest comments appear designed to provoke fury in the EU, or perhaps to push them to allow him to simply send the crowds of asylum seekers in his country onwards.
Speaking after a meeting with European Parliament President Martin Schulz, Orban defended the controversial set of measures his government is implementing to stem migration, saying it is simply implementing EU law. Budapest is required to register all migrants who arrived in Hungary from outside of the bloc, before they are allowed to travel further within the border-free Schengen zone, he noted.
Many of the migrants currently in Hungary have been refusing to register, seeking instead to continue to Germany and Austria. German Chancellor Angela Merkel - whose country has said it will take 800,000 asylum seekers this year - has called for EU states to take on greater responsability, and Orban's words were a clear riposte, designed to bolster a common opposition to accepting migrants in CEE.
“The problem is not European, it’s German. Nobody would like to stay in Hungary, neither Slovakia, Poland or Estonia,” Orban said. “All of them would like to go to Germany.”
A record number of migrants crossed Hungary's borders in recent months, with the country now serving as a frontline entry point to the EU’s passport-free zone. While the likes of France and Germany are calling for greater efforts to help refugees fleeing wars and oppression in Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea, Hungary along with its Central European peers is resisting.
But as migrant numbers rise, countries in the Visegrad group face growing pressure to share the burden. Merkel has warned that the Schengen zone may come under question if countries do not agree to burden-sharing.
Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - all of whom are hugely reliant on exports to the Eurozone - are due to meet for an emergency summit on September 4 to forge a common stance. The Visegrad summit comes ahead of an EU summit next week. However, the cohesion is wobbling. Poland, especially, appears ready to water down its opposition in the face of pressure from Brussels.
In the meantime tension in Hungary is rising, as the chaotic scenes multiply. On September 1 Hungarian police closed Budapest’s main train station to those without documents preventing them from boarding trains leaving for Austria and Germany. The shuttering of the major terminal came a day after police allowed hundreds of migrants stuck for days at the city’s train stations to leave the Hungarian capital on trains bound for Germany and Austria, despite many not having EU visas.
Early on September 3, police withdrew from the station allowing thousands of migrants camped outside Keleti train station to rush in. But Hungary's national rail carrier announced that there would be no trains departing for Germany in the immediate future.
One train did leave towards Austria, but was stopped by police near a migrant reception centre inside Hungary. Migrants mostly from Syria but also from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, resisted efforts by police to get them off the train at Bicske, about 40km west of Budapest. Foreign press reported they were herded away from the scene as a long standoff developed.
Hungary has so far this year registered nearly 150,000 asylum requests, versus just 43,000 in the whole of last year. In a bid to stem the influx of migrants, Hungary built a razor wire fence on the country’s southern border with Serbia, sparking criticism from fellow European Union states.
During the press conference after talks with Schulz, Orban said that the most important issue is to defend Hungary’s borders against the migrants as Europe’s identity is rooted in Christianity while most of the migrants are Muslims. That drew a sharp rebuke from European Commission President Donald Tusk. The former PM of Poland suggested Chrisitian values should be more inclusive.
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