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Editorial: Good, bad and ugly attitudes on refugees

The following is the Editorial from the September 18-October 1 biweekly edition of BBJ.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán discusses migrants in an early September meeting of the Visegrád Group of countries. (Photo: kormany.hu/Gergely Botár)

When it comes to dealing with the refugee crisis, the governments of Germany, Austria and Croatia have been good, the heads of the Visegrád Group of countries have been bad, and Hungary’s prime minister has been ugly.

The crisis is overwhelming for all of Europe, and there are obviously no easy answers. More than four million Syrians are said to have fled their country, while huge numbers are also pouring out of Afghanistan, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. The current route sends refugees directly through Hungary, and neither this country nor its neighbors have the capacity to provide for everyone entering our territory to stay here.

Still, some governments refuse to pledge any specific amount of help. The Visegrád Four, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, have been resisting the idea of agreeing to any quota of refugees, and they claim that most of the people fleeing war-torn areas to come here are actually “economic migrants”. Many people migrated from the V4 countries to find jobs in the western half of the European Union as soon as their membership in the Union allowed it. How can they now look down on economic migrants? Of course it should be remembered that most of the people coming through Hungary, especially the Syrians and Afghans who make up the bulk of the traffic, are not “economic migrants” but actually refugees, fleeing war. How can Hungary, whose refugees were helped across the West in 1956 be so unwelcoming now?

Refusing to take even small quotas of refugees is bad. But, as has now become the norm, it took Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to bring things down to an ugly level.

In the last few weeks, Orbán has made a raft of racist and xenophobic remarks about the refugees in the media. He has said that Europe cannot support a large population of non-Christians. He has said that Hungary already bears the burden of a Roma population without asking other countries to take some of the Hungarian citizens who are Roma – so we should not be forced to take Muslims too. He has said that we love kebab shops but we do not want too many Muslims here. He has said that the refugees come from another type of civilization, one that has more babies than Europeans, so they would soon overwhelm us.

It is not just the prime minister’s rhetoric that is hateful, his actions are too. He insists on putting up a fence and border patrols to keep refugees out, even though the countries where the refugees want to go say this action is not necessary. And Orbán wants to extend that fence to Romania, further cutting us off from our neighbors.

Germany and Austria have done what they can. They insist that their border checks are only temporary, because the refugee traffic is overwhelming. Croatia has said it is ready for refugees who decide to skirt Hungary and head toward their country. Only Orbán wants to make sure everyone knows that he is going out of his way to keep out non-Christians.

Thousands of refugees have died this year as they seek to escape their war-torn homelands and reach Europe, including 71 who died trying to leave Hungary in the back of a truck without ventilation last month. Attempting to completely halt the flow of these refugees is tantamount to a death sentence for some of them.

With his callous attitude toward these innocent lives, our prime minister has gone from bad to ugly.