In the last few days, refugees have started arriving in Hungary in increased numbers again, suggesting that Viktor Orbán’s enthusiastic pursuit of a “sealing-off” policy is not paying off. EurActiv’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.
“Fences don’t seem to be doing the job for which they were built,” said Budapest-based human rights activist Aniko Bakonyi, somewhat sarcastically, five months after the fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border was first put up. The country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has been a vocal critic of refugee policy elsewhere in Europe, notably of Germany’s, and has taken measures to seal Hungary off from new arrivals.
However, last weekend, the number of refugees and migrants crossing the country’s southern border dramatically increased. According to the Hungarian police, between Friday and Sunday, more than 500 arrests of people illegally crossing from Serbia were made. In the entire month of January 550 arrests were made. Many of the new arrivals are from Morocco, Iran and Pakistan and are, as a result, facing deportation.
Bakonyi told Tagesspiegel that the increase in numbers could be a result of the border controls now in place on the Greek-Macedonian border, which have forced refugees to take an alternative route through Serbia and Hungary. Initially, the Macedonian authorities decided in November to only open the border for Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans. On Sunday (21 February), they removed that privilege for Afghan nationals.
The Syria trust fund, used to help Syrian refugees and overstretched host communities in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, will also be used to help the migrants who made it to Macedonia and Serbia, an EU official said on Monday (1 February).
It has become clear in the past few weeks that despite Orbán’s best efforts, his fences clearly still have holes in them. Last month, 433 asylum applications were made, in contrast with just 232 in December.
Orbán is considered by many observers to be the driving force behind the plans to seal off the Macedonian border and he has been accused of trying to leave Greece alone with the problem. His approach to the issue has often put him in direct opposition to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In recent weeks, Merkel has bet more and more on Turkey contributing to the solution by reducing the number of people crossing the Aegean.
European Union countries approved yesterday (3 February) funds for Turkey to help refugees and migrants in the country in exchange for Ankara ensuring fewer of them venture out towards Europe.
Last week, Orbán did agree to give the action plan proposed by the EU a chance. How long this truce between the two premiers will last, remains unclear. At the next summit with Turkey on 6 March, the immediate effect of the action plan will be evaluated.
Christian Social Union chief Horst Seehofer, who has also been a vocal critic of Merkel’s ‘open-door’ policy towards refugees, will increase the pressure on the chancellor by meeting with Orbán shortly before the next EU summit.
This article was also published by EurActiv Germany.