September 14, 2015 12:08:46 am
Who are these refugees?
This year, 1,60,000 people, most of them from Syria, have fled from conflict zones in the Middle East, Asia and Africa to seek asylum in Hungary. The bulk of those arriving in the country are seeking to travel westwards, mainly to Austria and on to Germany. Thousands of people are now walking to Vienna from the Hungarian border. As per the UNHCR, more than 3,80,000 people have arrived on European shores via sea this year, while almost 3,000 people who attempted the journey are missing or dead.
How has Prime Minister Viktor Orban responded?
The hardline Hungarian prime minister has “vowed” to bring the number of migrants entering the country to “zero” from Tuesday (September 15) and said that he “wants to preserve a Hungarian Hungary”. Last week, outside the EU headquarters at Brussels, Orban said, “I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country”.
He has fast-tracked laws to strengthen police powers and set strict new punishments, including jail terms, for unauthorised border crossing. Orban has also ordered military exercises to prepare Hungary’s soldiers to guard the southern border and asked for speeding up of construction of a 3.5-metre-high, 175-km-long fence along the country’s southern frontier with Serbia, from where the migrants have been arriving. It is expected to be completed by October.
The government also plans to “process” asylum seekers in airport-like transit zones under a new system that comes into force on Tuesday. Activists fear that these zones would put the refugees in a “legal limbo”, because in immigration terms, this will not be considered as an “entry into that state”. The administration also shut down many railway stations in Hungary last week, forcing migrants to pay “criminal gangs” to smuggle them to Germany. Over 70 people died last week on an Austrian road while trying to escape in this manner.
The government is also debating whether to declare a state of emergency, starting September 15, a move that will reportedly allow soldiers to use more force to prevent people from entering Hungary.
What are the conditions in which the refugees are being kept?
Majority of refugees have been arriving in Hungary with coughs, colds and diarrhoea as a result of their long journeys. A video of a ‘detention camp’ in Hungary, released by the American advocacy group Human Rights Watch, shows refugees living in wired enclosures and clamouring for food as guards in surgical masks try to control them.
How has Orban’s response been viewed by the international community?
His extreme response to the refugee crisis hasn’t come as a surprise, given that in his five-year tenure, he has written a new constitution, regulated the media and filled up Hungary’s courts with his supporters. He has often been quoted mocking the “liberal democracy” of European nations and voicing admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. So far, Orban has got away with his controversial policies by cloaking them in “legalistic” terms, arguing that Hungary has been strictly abiding by the EU’s Dublin asylum regulations.
But despite being seen as ‘extreme’, some of Orban’s policies have supporters among other eastern European governments. Poland, Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia have supported Hungary in rejecting an EU plan for mandatory migrant quotas, something that is currently being promoted by Germany, France and Italy.
Compiled by Ankita Dwivedi Johri
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