The Hungarian Parliament has intensified the country’s anti-immigration drive by passing new legislation tightening asylum rules and giving the go-ahead for the construction of a fence on the Serbian border. This counts as the latest in a series of moves taken by Fidesz – the governing party – to curb immigration and limit the number of refugees.
Hungary has become a transit country for Syrians, Iraqis, Afghanis and other refugees coming through Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia who want to reach the EU. The Government says that about 72,000 migrants have entered the country so far this year, more than the 43,000 who applied in all of 2014. These numbers are comparable to those arriving by boat to Greece or Italy.
The anti-immigration package passed with flying colours and was voted into law by 151 of 199 members of Parliament with the backing of the ruling Fidesz and the far-right Jobbik party. At this point, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a staunch advocate for an “illiberal democracy” model for Hungary, is probably Europe’s most migration-averse politician. His precedents in adopting nationalistic and xenophobic policies are many and placed Hungary on a collision course with Brussels. It was only this April when Mr. Orban mailed eight million questionnaires as part of a “national consultation” on twelve immigration-related questions. He justified his action by saying that “economic migrants cross our borders illegally, and while they present themselves as asylum-seekers, they are in fact coming to enjoy our welfare systems and the employment opportunities our countries have to offer.”
This time around, Mr. Orban will not only be locking horns with Brussels, but is also set to provoke the ire of Serbia, an EU neighbouring country. The border fence will run 175 km along the frontier with Serbia and is expected to stand 4m high. Unsurprisingly, Belgrade finds this shocking and unacceptable. The Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic had announced that he will try to persuade Orban to go back on his decision, saying that the Serbian people “don’t want to live in Auschwitz.” Moreover, the move comes at a moment when the occasionally strained relations between the two countries over the status of the Hungarian minority in Serbia are at an all time high. It is yet unclear whether already scheduled joint cabinet meetings will go ahead as planned. What is clear, though, is that the adjacent countries will also experience unintended consequences. For example, Serbia might find itself closed off with barbed wire along the Croatian border too if the Croats decide to follow Hungary’s example.