Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán urged European leaders late yesterday (21 October) to change their “politically correct” immigration policies and involve voters in a debate about the continent’s future, saying they would otherwise face a political crisis and a threat to the democratic order.
Orbán’s comments resonate against the background of preparations for a mini-summit in Brussels for Sunday (25 October) to tackle the migrant crisis along the Western Balkans route.
At the invitation of Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia will attend, alongside with their counterparts from non-EU states Macedonia and Serbia.
Hungary has responded to the largest migration wave Europe has seen since World War Two by building a steel fence along its borders with Serbia and Croatia, a step both welcomed and criticised by various leaders around Europe.
The fence has sealed Hungary’s borders, but caused a growing backlog in Balkan countries which are struggling to usher them on to Germany through Slovenia, which has already asked for the European Union’s help.
Hungary’s ruling centre-right Fidesz party has taken a hard line against the tide of immigrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Asia, most of them refugees from Syria’s civil war. It has spoken of a threat to Europe’s Christian and democratic way of life, and demanded action from the EU, which is deeply divided on the issue.
Orbán told the state television channel m1 that European leaders had no mandate to let hundreds of thousands of migrants enter the EU with little or no control.
“This destabilises European democracies,” he said. “We need to start the debate about the future of our continent honestly, without the muzzle of ‘political correctness’, without pretence, talking straight.”
“We need to listen to the people and incorporate their views in our politics. If we can’t do that, we’ll have a political crisis on top of our migrant crisis.”
He said Hungary’s border fence had been meant to turn migrants back from Europe, not divert them along a different path to Germany, and that he had asked Hungary’s Balkan neighbours to help send the migrants back.
“The right thing to do is not to ensure their passage into Europe, but to take them back to the refugee camps they started out from,” he said.
Many of the refugees come from camps in Turkey. EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said on 23 September that the unprecedented wave of refugees came to Europe because agencies in countries neighbouring Syria were underfunded.
“The further they come from their troubled countries, the more difficult it will be for them to return. Therefore these people must remain (in their region) and humane conditions must be created for them (there).”
Slovenia cries for help
More than 12,000 migrants have crossed into Slovenia in the last 24 hours and thousands more are expected, prompting authorities to ask the rest of the European Union for help dealing with the flood of people.
Slovenia has asked the EU for police to help regulate the flow coming from Croatia, Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar told TV Slovenia. Some 10,300 of the migrants remain in Slovenia, an interior ministry spokesman said.
Croatia also decided on Thursday (22 October) to seek international help, the news agency Hina reported. The government said it will ask for blankets, winter tents, beds and containers. Since mid-September, 217,000 refugees have entered Croatia.
Migrants began streaming into Slovenia last Friday (16 October), when Hungary closed its border with Croatia. Before then, they were heading for Hungary, and then north and west to Austria and Germany. Sealing the border diverted them to Slovenia, which is also a member of the Schengen zone.
With more and more bottlenecks being created across the Balkans, thousands of migrants are spending cold nights under open skies in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. Another 9,000 are expected to enter Serbia on Thursday, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees office in Serbia.
“It is alarming, because the weather is getting cold,” Seda Kuzucu, UNHCR field coordinator in Presevo told Reuters.
European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos will visit Slovenia later today to discuss the migrant crisis.
Leaders would hardly have the time to exhaust all issues during the 3-hour summit on Sunday. It appears that the Commission wants to avoid that world news be dominated by the plight of refugees attempting to cross the Balkans during the cold of winter. Juncker is expected to appeal for a more dignified treatment of the migrants on their ‘Western Balkans’ route to Austria and Germany.
A question likely to remain unanswered is what would happen when a saturation point would be reached in Germany itself. If Germany too closes its borders, refugees stranded on their route might create political crises similar to the ones anticipated by Orbán, an EU diplomat told EurActiv.