A Hungarian junior minister refutes claims his country is fomenting racism, saying the term “Muslim invaders” used by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to describe refugees was normal political terminology back home.
Kristof Altusz, Deputy State Secretary within the Hungarian Foreign Affairs Ministry, also described as “nonsense” concerns that the escalation of tensions between Budapest and Brussels could result in a decision to leave the bloc.
Having joined the EU in 2004, the former communist country is renowned for its right-wing policies adopted by Mr Orban, who has been at the helm since 2010.
Following the 2015 European migrant crisis, Hungary has increasingly been on the warpath with the European Commission over its refusal to accept some 1,300 asylum seekers in line with an EU-wide relocation mechanism.
Nonetheless, last June, the European Court of Justice dismissed a challenge by Slovakia and Hungary, saying all Member States were obliged to take their share of refugees.
The latest controversy erupted over remarks Mr Orban made a few days ago to German newspaper Bild when talking about the refugees programme.
“We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders,” the Hungarian Prime Minister remarked.
“For example, to travel from Syria to Hungary you have to cross four countries, all of which are not as rich as Germany but stable, so they are not running for their lives there.”
Unsurprisingly, critics who have long accused Budapest of fomenting xenophobia and undermining the rule of law, were quick to sound the alarm bells.
Asked if he subscribed to Mr Orban’s view, Mr Altusz noted the term “Muslim invaders” was used to caution against having “parallel societies” like in other Member States such as France and Germany.
Citing the experience of the “integration” of Turkish citizens into Germany and of nationals hailing from former French colonies into France, Mr Altusz was keen to say that this multicultural approach would cause problems.
“Are there no-go zones in certain big capital cities? Would you feel safe if you had to be there at night? These are the questions a journalist should ask,” he said.
While not entering into the merits on whether Mr Orban should have used a milder term to express himself, he noted that Hungary did not want to follow the direction he said certain Western European societies had taken.
Mr Altusz argued that each Member State should be left to decide according to its own interests.
If someone wants to seek shelter in Hungary, we are open. But let us not mix definitions. Economic migrants are not refugees
“We are not saying Germany or France have done anything wrong. We would never do something like that,” he said.
“However, we see the consequences and draw our own conclusions. Invaders of Muslim communities is a political language used in Hungary which might sound a bit hard for the Western ear but in my country, this is not something which is striking that much.”
Speaking on the future relationship with Brussels, he said that any suggestions Hungary wanted to follow in the footsteps of the UK were completely off the mark.
“Back home we are very happy to have joined the EU and support for membership is at 72 per cent. Thus, claims that Hungary is doing its freedom fight to leave the EU are completely nonsense,” he said.
“Being part of the family provides us with a wide range of opportunities.”
When it was pointed out to him that benefits went hand in hand with obligations, the issue of migration surfaced again.
How can Hungary preach solidarity when it was not shouldering its responsibility to take about 1,300 migrants?
Mr Altusz made a distinction between refugees and migrants.
“If someone wants to seek shelter in Hungary we are open. But let us not mix definitions. Economic migrants are not refugees,” he said.
“Sending a message that surviving the dangerous journey to Europe automatically guarantees you entry is wrong. That would encourage even more migration,” he cautioned.
Mr Altusz argued that the EU mechanism was flawed because, once resettled, migrants could move freely between Member States, that way rendering the quota irrelevant.
Last year alone, he claimed, Hungary took about 1,300 refugees but, very often, such cases were not publicised by the government as it could put the beneficiaries in danger.
“Those requiring refugee status can come to Hungary,” he said.
Mr Altusz noted that migration was fought by ramping up the fight against human trafficking and organised crime, supporting countries facing serious challenges and protecting borders outside Schengen.
“Are you really a sovereign State if you do not know who is coming into your territory,” he remarked.
“We do not have to import problems in the EU but provide help where needed.”
Apart from migration, the Hungarian government was also accused of increasingly trying to stifle fundamental freedoms such as the rights of the media and academics.
But Mr Altusz said the claims were probably “big political black clouds” intentionally fomented by those who favoured a more federal approach by the EU.
“Federalists are looking to hit sovereigntists with vague accusations like being anti-democratic and undermining the rule of law without being specific,” he said.
“Hungary is open to debate and we do not fear change just like the media law that was amended six times since 2011.
“Certainly, we do not want to be the black sheep of the European Union,” Mr Altusz said.