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Hungarian report
by Euro Reporter
2016-06-13 10:01:32
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Hungary prepares for referendum on EU refugee resettlement quotas

Brexit is not the only referendum that's giving the European Union headaches. Later this year, Hungarians will go to the polls to decide on whether they will accept mandatory EU quotas for resettling refugees. Prime Minister Viktor Orban is known for being tough on migrants and refugees.  Last year, he built a razor-wire fence to prevent the flow of people over the Hungarian border. This year, he has cut back on benefits for refugees and launched a long-term referendum campaign that still has no set date. As you drive through Budapest, the streets are lined with Government-sponsored billboards that declare: "Let's send a message to the EU so that they can also understand". It is a message about national sovereignty and the right to decide who can live in your country.

hungary_400_01The Orban Government is spending an estimated $90 million on the campaign to prevent the resettlement of 1,300 refugees. However, Hungary's Deputy Foreign Minister Dr Laszlo Szabo told the ABC it was not about the numbers. "We don't agree with the principle that it has to be a mandatory quota," he said. Peter Kreko, the director of the Budapest-based think tank Political Capital thinks the Government is stringing out the referendum for political purposes. "In Hungarian society the xenophobic tendencies are quite strong," he said. Mr Kreko also sees this as part of a broader trend. "In Europe we can see that politicians who are talking out against the refugees and who are taking hard-line positions on this issue are becoming more popular," he said. Right-wing nationalist parties are currently enjoying massive support in Hungary. One recent poll showed Orban's Government was tracking at 51 per cent. Jobbik, a far-right party, was sitting at 17 per cent. In other words, more than two thirds of Hungarians could well vote for a right-wing nationalist party if there was an election now.

Plenty of Hungarians are happy to defend the Government's tough policies on refugees and migrants. Melissa Meszaros, a tour guide and part-time barista, told me: "When I heard that they were building the fence I was literally counting down the days till completion." Ferenc Almassy, a journalist who has reported on the frontline of the migrant crisis, said many of the people who were coming over the border were incompatible with the Hungarian way of life. "It's easy for a European country to integrate European people, but to integrate a lot of non-European people with different culture, different languages, different habits, different religions is not so easy," he said. If integration is a problem for migrants and refugees in Hungary, it is likely to get even harder.  Last week, the Government abolished its integration contract for any refugee who arrives after June 1. The contract gave recent arrivals financial benefits to help them find a job, settle into a new house, and get Hungarian lessons.

Dora Kanizsai runs a refugee mission for the Hungarian Reformed Church. She says she has found it virtually impossible to find housing for asylum seekers since the Government ramped up its rhetoric by linking migrants to terrorism.  Now she says the abolition of the integration contract will makes things even harder for refugees. "It's clearly designed to say to refugees you don't need to be here. This is not the country for you," she said. Faraz, an Afghan asylum seeker, who worked for Coalition forces as a translator before fleeing to Hungary after receiving death threats, told me he could not imagine how refugees would survive without the benefits. "It's impossible," he said.  Faraz relied on benefits to get a start when he first arrived in Hungary, now he has a job and is learning Hungarian in his spare time. With no set date for the referendum, the Government continues to campaign against the EU's quota for resettling refugees. There are fears in Brussels that the rise of right-wing nationalist parties in Europe could undermine the union's authority and lead to a form of political contagion.


Hungary refuses to take back migrants from Austria

Hungary said Thursday (9 June) it would continue to refuse taking back migrants that Austria argues should be returned under EU rules. “It’s clear Hungary cannot take back these migrants,” Hungary’s defence minister Istvan Simicsko told a press conference in Budapest alongside his Austrian counterpart Hans Peter Doskozil. Hungary, pointing the finger at Greece, has argued that it cannot take back migrants that have crossed other EU member states before arriving to Hungary. Under the so-called Dublin rules, which are being reviewed by the EU, the country where the migrants first enter the bloc is responsible for handling the asylum seeker’s case. “In order to take them back they would have had to begin their journey here. But ... they crossed several countries before arriving in Hungary. They didn't suddenly get here by magic, they crossed several safe countries”, Simicsko said. Most migrants arriving to Hungary had first travelled from Greece through Macedonia, Bulgaria (another EU country) and Serbia.

Several EU member states have suspended sending migrants back to Greece, where tens of thousands are stuck already. Austria received 90,000 asylum requests last year, the second highest per person in the EU, and says several thousand came through Hungary, which should take them and process their claims. Last autumn, at the peak of the migration crisis, Hungary sent busloads of migrants to Austria without registering them. Austria has suspended sending people back to Hungary, when last September a court ruled in the case of an Afghan family, that they cannot be deported back to Hungary due to “inhumane conditions” there. But that did not prevent Vienna from sending people back in the future, an Austrian interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told AFP. Doskozil said around 150 migrants still arrive to Austria every day from Hungary. The issue underpins the spat between the neighbouring countries over the handling of the migrant crisis. When Hungary built a fence last year along its Serbian and later, its Croatian border, Austria criticised Budapest for the move, only to erect its own “technical barriers” later along its Slovenian border.

Now Austria is considering sending policemen and soldiers to the Hungarian border fence, Austria daily Die Presse reported. Since it has sealed its frontiers, Hungary has made crossing its border illegally a criminal offence, and it keeps newly arrived migrants in two makeshift transit zones along its Serbian border. It is admitting about 20 cases per day, according to the UN’s refugee agency. The UNHCR criticised the conditions in the transit zones earlier this week. "We remain concerned about Hungary's restrictive approaches and the dire situation asylum-seekers face outside the transit zones," Samar Mazloum, head of UNHCR's local office said. Currently, only 15-17 people are admitted daily at each zone, leaving hundreds "to suffer day and night without any proper support at the EU border,” he said, adding that the policy is helping people smugglers to exploit the situation.


Hungary's far-right Jobbik party's leader strengthens power

The leader of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party is trying to strengthen his power by forcing a key party member to resign from parliament, experts said Monday. Lawmaker Elod Novak said he was giving up his seat at the request of party president Gabor Vona but wanted to remain in Jobbik, the second-largest opposition group in parliament. In a post on Facebook, Novak called his resignation "the most painful decision" in his life, describing his ouster as "incorrect and unethical." Vona was recently re-elected party president with 80 percent support, but blocked Novak and others from running for leadership positions. Political Capital Institute analyst Attila Juhasz said Vona was resorting to the method also used by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who emphasized personal loyalty and consolidated his leadership by side-lining potential rivals.

"Vona wants to demonstrate that there is no alternative or deviation from the direction he has set," Juhasz said. "Heading toward parliamentary elections in 2018, Vona wants to end the internal squabbles and have discipline and centralized leadership in the party." Novak's wife, Dora Duro, one of Hungary's few female lawmakers, didn't wish to comment on her husband's ouster, which Juhasz said was another indication of Vona's dominance. Jobbik, which entered parliament in 2010 with 16.7 percent of the votes, improved to 20.2 percent in 2014, but has had difficulty increasing its support in the past year in part because of Orban's success with his popular anti-immigrant position, usually a right-wing policy. Juhasz said the ouster of Novak, one of the more militant and outspoken Jobbik officials, wasn't connected to the party's efforts to soften its image and appeal to more voters, as Vona's new deputies, such as Laszlo Toroczkai, were no less radical.


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