It says a lot about the state of affairs in Hungary that the Hungarian media and hence the Hungarian public had to learn from an Austrian newspaper that the Hungarian government had repealed the Dublin III Regulation governing refugee policy within the European Union for an unspecified length of time because of “technical difficulties.”
In an “exclusive” article the Austrian Die Presse revealed late yesterday evening that “the Hungarian Ministry of Interior has informed the authorities in Vienna of its refusal to accept any refugees who have crossed through Hungary and moved on the other member states.” The same message was sent to Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Finland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Slovakia, and Germany. Government spokesman Zoltán Kovács, who was interviewed by Die Presse, explained that Hungary is looking after 3,000 refugees already, and “the boat is full.” The country cannot take any more refugees. The Austrian Foreign Ministry called in the Hungarian ambassador for consultation.
Brussels’s reaction to Hungary’s unilateral suspension of the Dublin agreement was immediate and surprisingly sharp. The European Commission asked for “an immediate clarification” of the nature and extent of the “technical difficulties” and expressed its dismay at Hungary’s unilateral decision on the matter. Die Presse‘s take on Viktor Orbán’s latest assault on the legal structure of the European Union was that he wanted to put pressure on the European Union before the Brussels summit scheduled for Thursday.
Hungarian journalists, who tried to find out more about the EU reaction in Brussels, learned that a unilateral move in contravention of a hard-and-fast rule such as Dublin III is unheard of. What Hungary could do if it is unable to fulfill its obligations is to ask for additional financial assistance. Mind you, it will be difficult to argue that Hungary is overburdened by refugees returned from western countries when their number over the last year was 827. One possible outcome of Viktor Orbán’s “naughtiness” will be another useless infringement procedure, although the Demokratikus Koalíció also suggested that Hungary’s refusal to cooperate might mean a loss of EU subsidies that are earmarked for the upkeep of refugees while their cases are being investigated.
That was the situation last night. This morning the ministry of interior, which is responsible for handling the refugee issue and was the one that informed a score of countries of Hungary’s decision, changed its story. What the ministry said last night was “misunderstood.” Hungary is not planning to abrogate the Dublin agreement. The government is simply asking for “a little patience.” According to EU standards, Hungary has accommodations for only 1,500 people, but 3,500-4,000 refugees are currently in the country. According to the ministry of interior, the western countries would like to send 600-700 people back to Hungary, and the government is asking for “technical patience,” whatever that means, only in their case.
In addition, this morning the cabinet held a meeting after which Péter Szijjártó, the foreign minister, gave a brief press conference during which they reiterated this latest version of Hungary’s policy on the refugee issue. Any suspension of the EU rule is out of the question. The Hungarian government will “begin consultations with the first deputy president of the EU,” Frans Timmermans.
Whatever happened between yesterday afternoon and this morning, it had to be something that made a strong impression on Viktor Orbán and his crew. Moreover, it is doubtful that the idea of “consultations” was initiated by the Hungarian government. More likely than not, Timmermans strongly urged Szijjártó & Co. to report to him on Hungary’s policy. I wish Szijjártó the best of luck in trying to explain the exact position of the government on the matter. At the moment the messages coming from various ministries are so confusing that I doubt that even top government officials know what the real situation is.
In Brussels the Hungarian government most likely will try to argue that those refugees who come to Hungary through Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia are coming from “safe”countries and therefore are not eligible for protection on the territory of Hungary. I doubt that this argument will float. Admittedly, the Dublin III agreement is unfair in the sense that certain countries, like Hungary and very soon Slovenia and Croatia, have to carry most of the burden of the overland refugee explosion. But, under the present circumstances, the best Hungary can hope for is financial and personnel assistance in dealing with the refugees.
Otherwise, the government is proceeding with its plans to build a fence along the Serbian border, which many western politicians condemn as an act that might create a chain reaction. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, speaking in the Italian senate, said that “those of us who saw the destruction of walls will have to be the ones who prevent the raising of such walls again in Europe.” Szijjártó announced that, if necessary, they will erect fences not only between Hungary and Serbia but between Hungary and other countries as well. I wonder which countries he has in mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government extended the fence toward the west, along certain parts of the Croatian-Hungarian border.
Great efforts are also being made to catch refugees. Thousands of policemen are already patrolling the Serbian-Hungarian border. Today a huge police raid was conducted in Szeged, apparently prompted by the complaints of some residents about refugees hiding in the city. One such helpful citizen was interviewed this morning on TV2. She is an older woman who spends her entire day along the border, searching for refugees and handing them over to the police. Today’s police raid was successful. By 4 p.m. 728 refugees had been rounded up just in the city of Szeged.
László Toroczkai, the infamous neo-Nazi who has been banned from Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia because of his openly irredentist views and illegal activities and who became mayor of Ásotthalom in 2013, created a “civil guard” of about 15 volunteers who patrol and alert the local police. A reporter for the Irish Times encountered Toroczkai, who said that sometimes the refugees “break into an empty farmhouse to sleep or change clothes. But occasionally the owner comes back when they’re inside–and who would be pleased to find an Afghan or African family in their home like that?” A reporter from Al Jazeera experienced first hand the prejudice of Hungarians. He described a young woman reporter, most likely from the state television station, who “speaks of [the refugees] to us as though they are vermin.”
Viktor Orbán’s policy, which was sold as defending Hungarians from dangerous strangers, resonates with about 75% of the population. And so it is not surprising that, according to the latest opinion poll, Fidesz has rebounded, turning around the downward trend in its support over the past few months. The refugee issue was a godsend to Viktor Orbán.