An unlikely leader has emerged in Europe to represent those who oppose the European Union’s moves to accept a growing deluge of African and Middle Eastern migrants into the continent: the prime minister of tiny Hungary.
Viktor Orban, the head of Hungary’s conservative Fidesz party, is very publicly defying European Union officials who have called upon the continent to accept a wave of hundreds of thousands of migrants from countries like Syria, Libya, and South Sudan.
In a Thursday speech in Brussels, where the European Parliament is based, Orban pointed out that many migrants currently reaching Europe are hardly coming straight from a war-torn Syrian desert and are not in immediate physical danger.
“Why do you have to go from Turkey to Europe? Turkey is a safe country. Stay there. It’s risky to come,” Orban said, indicating it was the most “moral” thing to tell refugees. Accepting migrants en masse, he argues, is “madness” and will encourage more to make a dangerous journey to Europe.
Orban argues that Europe’s “migrant crisis” is hardly temporary, and will instead continue indefinitely if the continent doesn’t show a willingness to control its borders.
“Europe is not in the grip of a ‘refugee problem’ or a ‘refugee situation,’ but the European continent is threatened by an ever mounting wave of modern-era migration,” Orban wrote in a Thursday editorial for a German newspaper. “Movement of people is taking place on an immense scale, and from a European perspective the number of potential future immigrants seems limitless.
Hungary has seen over 150,000 migrants enter the country of just 9.8 million people since the start of 2015, as the country is a common stopping point for migrants who enter Europe via Turkey and then travel up from Greece and the Balkan countries. Most of the migrants hope to move on to Germany, the U.K., or other wealthy European states with stronger economies and more generous welfare.
Orban is unafraid to bring up the migrants’ religion, arguing that accepting a large volume of mostly Muslim migrants will undermine Europe’s Christian heritage.
“Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity,” he wrote Thursday. “Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? If we lose sight of this, the idea of Europe could become a minority interest in its own continent.”
Orban has expressed strong opposition to a proposal, put forward by the German and French governments, to create a “quota” system for refugees that would distribute them across the EU.
If Germany or any individual country wants to accept thousands of migrants, Orban says, then no other country should be forced to shoulder the burden of their charity.
“The problem is not European, it’s German,” Orban said in Brussels Thursday. “Nobody would like to stay in Hungary, neither Slovakia, Poland or Estonia … All of them would like to go to Germany.”
Orban’s government has been willing to put its money where its mouth is. One step Orban’s government has taken to stem the refugee tide will be familiar to Americans: A simple border fence. This week, the country finished the first phase of a planned 110-mile razor wire fence along the country’s border with Serbia. By the end of November, Hungary plans for the wire to be four feet tall.
It may soon go even further. According to Reuters, officials are investigating Israel’s steel security wall on the Egyptian border to see if it should be imitated back in Europe.
Orban’s political support, to the extent that it exists, is mostly coming from other Eastern European countries. Slovakia, another small country that borders Hungary, has joined in the denunciation of migrant quotas.
“If a [quota system] of migrants is adopted, we will wake up one day and have 100,000 people from the Arab world and that is a problem I would not like Slovakia to have,” Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico said Thursday.
If it continues, Orban’s defiance could do more than just influence the refugee debate. It could also start to eat away at key components of the European Union, such as the lack of internal borders between member states.
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