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Editorial: Fence the wrong response to tragedy

The following is the Editorial from the September 4-17 biweekly edition.

Refugees demonstrating outside Keleti train station on September 3. (Photo: MTI)

It is a horrible tragedy that 71 refugees recently died in a dangerous attempt to flee Hungary in the back of a truck, but it was only one part of a tragedy that is unfolding in Budapest’s train stations, and all across Europe. Tens of thousands of people who are desperate to leave their homes, taking little or nothing with them, are pouring over the border into our country. Understandably the mass global migration, with a record number of refugees on the move this year, caught all Europeans off guard, and answers are not easy. For many generous Hungarians, the response has been obvious: Volunteers have been flocking to the train stations to offer food, clothing and assistance.

In contrast, the Hungarian government’s main response has been fear mongering and building a fence along the Serbian border. This is a cynical attempt by the ruling Fidesz party to use this tragedy as a way to increase its popular support.

Although it is costing us an estimated HUF 6.6 billion, the fence is not very effective as a barrier. Refugees can easily pass through, and will probably continue to do so even if it is reinforced. From the beginning, the real purpose of the fence has been its public relations value.

The fence is the government’s way of saying that Brussels is failing to stop the migrants and that only the Hungarian leadership is strong enough to do the job. It says that outsiders endanger us, and that the hundreds of thousands of families fleeing war pose a terrorist threat. It says we should be afraid and should look to our leadership to protect us. It says that the Fidesz party hates foreigners as much as Jobbik, the nationalist party that is currently number two in the polls.

The fence is not the only way the government seeks to strengthen its message of fear and hatred. A September 1 report in The Guardian reveals that Hungary’s government-appointed Media Authority (MTVA) has instructed public media reporting on refugees to refrain from using images of children, apparently because such images might humanize the refugees and make them appear sympathetic.

Helping refugees is a challenge, one that requires a unified, humane response from all of Europe. This country should not be forced to face the burden alone, and clearly Hungary has been thrown into a difficult situation as the main entry for refugees coming into the European Union. The solution needs to include support from the EU. It also needs to involve a way to make room for these people, to give them sanctuary and make it possible for them to build new lives in Europe and contribute to our societies.

The government’s use of this tragedy to foment fear is wrong. We need to send a message to the government that Hungary is full of caring people who are not afraid of their fellow human beings – and that cynical fear mongering is the wrong approach.