The contrast between Kim Lane Scheppele’s denunciation of Hungary’s migration policies (“Orbán’s Police State,” Politico.eu, September 14, 2015) and Melik Kaylan’s balanced commentary (“Spare a Thought for Hungary,” Politico.eu, September 15, 2015) could not be more striking. Scheppele systematically distorts Hungary’s measured and compassionate response to the migration crisis, while Kaylan thoughtfully analyzes the roots of the calamity and challenges readers to empathize with the plight facing Hungary and other countries on the frontlines of Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War II. [Guest post by Réka Szemerkényi]
Scheppele has clearly not witnessed first-hand — as I did a few days ago — the depth of Hungary’s humanitarian response to the heartbreaking specter of tens of thousands of migrants fleeing the war-torn Middle East and North Africa. Thousands of Hungarian citizens and scores of charities have volunteered to provide migrants with food, water, clothing, shelter, blankets, medical supplies, ambulance services, and even baby strollers to families with young children. Hungary’s ministry of health and social services has coordinated these efforts to ensure that migrants are treated with dignity and respect while they go through the registration process.
But empathy alone is not enough, the magnitude of this crisis is staggering: There have been more than 200,000 illegal border crossings into Hungary this year with some 170,000 requests for asylum. The migrants flooding into Europe could soon number in the millions. What detractors fail to understand is that, under these extreme circumstances, simply opening borders or assigning arbitrary “quotas” cannot be the basis of a long-term solution. With the origin of the exodus — civil strife and social disintegration — still unaddressed, merely absorbing more and more refugees is unsustainable. To date, none of the fundamental challenges have been adequately addressed by the EU’s leadership.
Yesterday, the Hungarian border police came under attack from a small, but determined and aggressive group of migrants. The police responded appropriately, defending themselves and Hungary’s borders. Contrary to Scheppele’s claims and distortions, Hungarian police have shown empathy and done a great job under very difficult circumstances. On the basis of what really took place on the ground, it is not apologies for their actions that are needed. What we need is to finally start focusing on the root causes of the problem and to develop real answers.
As Kaylan points out, Europe’s common space and open internal borders have historically been predicated on the need to keep the continent’s external borders secure. Hungary is committed to making sure these borders are secure. As more and more countries face similar pressures to Hungary, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Netherlands, others are also forced to temporarily impose stronger border controls. These measures are necessary at this point, but we also need a comprehensive solution. Hungary has consistently advocated addressing the root causes of the crisis to help protect the lives and human rights of the affected people, in their home countries. Instead of pursuing a naïve policy, playing an all-European blame game, or fighting shadows, the international community needs to help stabilize the source regions of migration — through both political and economic means — and eliminate the conditions that triggered mass migration.
In short, the international community needs to address the real causes of the problem. This desire to address problems at their root explains why Hungary has sent ground troops to combat ISIL in Iraq. Hungary remains fully prepared to continue meeting all of its legal and moral obligations toward migrants, just as it will continue adhering to EU law while maintaining its responsibilities to protect the integrity of its borders and European security. But no one has to apologize for protecting their borders. We shan’t either.