It was about a month and a half ago that I wrote two posts dealing with the abominable circumstances along the Serbian-Hungarian border where hundreds of refugees wait for admittance into Hungary but authorities process only fifteen people a day. The authorities could easily handle ten times that number, but they purposely slow the process to discourage those waiting on the other side of the fence. In addition, a new directive now allows Hungarian soldiers and policemen to catch and forcibly remove anyone who gets through the fence illegally and is found within eight kilometers of the border. This government order can easily lead to violence.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a detailed description of the alleged abuses at the Serbian-Hungarian border. The organization found that “people who cross into Hungary without permission, including women and children, have been viciously beaten and forced back across the border.” A few days later Nick Thorpe of BBC paid a visit to the area and confirmed the findings of HRW. What followed these reports was a furious denial by the Hungarian authorities of any and all wrongdoing.
Given the bad publicity, one would have thought that the ministry of defense and the ministry of the interior would make sure that soldiers and policemen along the border would be extra careful and would handle the deportation procedures without any unnecessary violence. But, according to an Afghan refugee, this is what happens if a refugee is caught by an officer. “First, they use pepper spray, after which they beat him, handcuff him, and then they let the dogs loose on him. After all this he will be taken back to Serbia.” And, he added, “Only God can help us!” A Syrian man drowned, even though he was a strong swimmer, when Hungarian soldiers or policemen attacked him and his companions with pepper spray and rocks. The Hungarian authorities are allegedly investigating this case. Most of the refugees who complained got nowhere. The Hungarian police didn’t think they had a case.
Yesterday, for the first time, Károly Papp, the national police chief, admitted that there have been several instances in which policemen mistreated refugees. In fact, criminal proceedings have been launched in four cases. We’ll see what happens. I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Meanwhile the Hungarian government decided that the Serbian-Hungarian border defense must be reinforced, and so it launched a campaign to recruit an additional 3,000 men and women. These people will constitute a special unit within the police force, specifically trained for duty along the border. They will be called “határvadászok” (border hunters) instead of “rendőrök” (policemen).
During the Rákosi and Kádár periods, when the borders were hermetically sealed, the military had a separate unit whose members were called “határőrök” (border guards). This special military force ceased to exist with the arrival of democracy and open borders. For years, however, the extreme right political party Jobbik has been demanding the re-creation of this force, which up until now the Orbán government has resisted. Finally, pressured by the flood of refugees whom they want to keep out of Hungary, the government obliged.
Naming these new border guards “border hunters” is significant. A guard is passive until whatever he is guarding is attacked. A hunter actively pursues the game. Orbán’s wordsmiths are exceedingly clever and know how to manipulate the linguistically unsophisticated public.
The reinforcement of the borders has already cost a small fortune, and adding this special unit to the police force will also be very expensive. According to the information provided by Károly Papp, seven units have been trained so far for border duty. Plans call for an additional eight units. That also means enlarging police facilities in several cities, like Budapest, Győr, Szombathely, Debrecen, Szeged, Orosháza, and Kiskunhalas.
The recruiting program is substantial because, I suspect, serving along the border is not exactly a cushy job. I have read horror stories about the primitive circumstances the soldiers and policemen must endure. The government’s hope is that unemployed white collar workers and those who are currently employed as public workers will be willing to become hunters. It seems that by now the police force is ready to hire even those who had been rejected earlier. The training will take six months. By next May an extra 3,000 men and women will be able to serve along the southern border.
All this frantic defense of the country from the refugees is totally senseless because the people who are waiting in Serbia for legal entry or who illegally try to break through the fence have no intention of remaining in Hungary. It is also unlikely that unwilling migrants would be forcibly settled in Hungary. Or, even if there was such a joint decision in Brussels, the numbers Hungary would have to deal with would be small. Moreover, as it stands now, Hungary is letting the few already registered refugees quietly leave the country. Those who until now have been living in closed camps are given a railway ticket and a map to find their way to Körmend, a town close to the Austrian border, from where they disappear across the Austrian border within a couple of days.
But if that is the case, why did the Orbán government insist on sealing Hungary’s southern border? The answer is simple. It is only for domestic political reasons. The overwhelming majority of the population supports Orbán’s migration policy and doesn’t mind the billions spent on the fence or on the manpower to hunt down the refugees. On the contrary, they welcome it. And Viktor Orbán is ready to sacrifice everything, including the reputation of the country and the country’s relationship with the rest of the democratic world, for political gain. Unfortunately, for the time being at least it seems to to be working.