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Editorial: The real problems are on this side of the fence

The following is the Editorial column from the October 30-November 12 biweekly edition of the Budapest Business Journal.

By spending billions of forints on fences and border patrols, the government has successfully sealed Hungary from refugee traffic, making this the only country in the corridor from Turkey to Germany that refugees have to go around, instead of passing through. The neighboring countries are angry at this isolationist approach, and the refugees face greater dangers as colder weather approaches, but officials imply that these foreigners pose a threat.

The idea that the government must protect us from external threats is a favorite theme of our leaders. It is a transparent effort at populist fear mongering, designed to get us to forget the real problems that this country has, and to ignore how little our leadership is doing about those problems. It seems to be working for now, as recent polls have indeed shown an uptick in the popularity of the ruling Fidesz party in the face of assumed threats from abroad.

Seriously though, do we really need this fence? Estimates are hard to come by, but a Fidesz official has suggested the cost of fencing along the border could come to at least HUF 20 billion. Meanwhile, the refugees that this expensive effort is blocking are not interested in staying here, and it was entirely possible to let them keep making the half-day trip through our country on their way toward Austria and Germany.

The government has given a host of reasons for never letting refugees set foot on Hungarian soil. They warn us that migrants carry diseases, that Muslims will have more children than we do and destroy our Christian way of life, and that migrants will take our jobs.

But if we are really so worried about diseases, should we not be more concerned that roughly 1,000 doctors leave our country every year? The state pay for doctors is about one-tenth what it is in other European countries, which is why health care workers are leaving in droves, and those who are staying are overwhelmed.

If we are really concerned about our children, should we not think more about better schooling? Thanks to cuts in spending – and unnecessary government interference in curriculums and faculties – the quality of Hungarian academic programs is dropping, encouraging our best and brightest students to study, work and move abroad.

As for concerns about migrants taking our jobs, demographers tell us that, like doctors and students, other types of workers are leaving Hungary to find better wages in the West.

While stirring fear of foreigners is easier than dealing with our problems, in the long run blaming others will not improve health care, education and employment prospects in this country. As long as the government neglects these, and other vital issues, the majority of the traffic at our borders will continue to consist of people heading for the exit.