Colin Freeman, Telegraph, September 22, 2015
Britons have been jamming the switchboard of Hungary’s embassy to London with messages of support for Budapest’s controversial stance on the migrant crisis, the mission’s staff disclosed on Tuesday.
In a briefing designed to defend Hungary’s decision to fence off its borders to migrants trying to reach Europe, the country’s diplomats disclosed that the embassy in Belgravia was now receiving up to 300 phone calls, emails and letters every day on the matter.
While around 30 per cent were comments such as “you are heartless scum”, the rest described Hungary’s actions as “God’s gift to Europe”, officials claimed.
The comments, which offer a snapshot of British attitudes on the migrant question, were revealed by the embassy in the wake of strong criticisms levelled at Hungary over the hardline approach of Viktor Orban, the country’s Right-wing prime minister.
Mr Orban has said that the influx of mainly Muslim migrants from the likes of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan could end up running into the millions, threatening Europe’s identity as a Christian nation. Hungarian police, meanwhile, have been castigated for using tear gas and water cannon on migrants as they have tried to stop them crossing into Hungarian territory, large parts of which are now guarded by a hastily-built border fence.
The dispute between Hungary and other eastern European states on the question of accepting migrants is likely to surface again on Wednesday, when EU heads of state meet in yet another attempt to forge a common approach to the crisis.
But speaking ahead of the meeting, Péter Szabadhegy, Hungary’s ambassador to London, said that public opinion was gradually coming around to Hungary’s point of view.
“We are getting a mixed response, yes, but more and more we are getting the sense that people are beginning to understand Hungary’s perspective,” he told a meeting of journalists at the embassy on Tuesday morning.
Mr Szabadhegy decision to brief journalists on Hungary’s position on the migrant issue appeared to be an attempt by his country’s government to present a softer image to the media head of tomorrow’s meeting.
A tanned, urbane figure who commands perfect English, he avoided the more caustic language of his prime minister, but was otherwise robust in his defence of Hungary’s actions. He reiterated Budapest’s opposition to the migrant quota system proposed by Brussels, in which up to 160,000 migrants will be shared out across the 28 nation bloc, saying it, saying it would only encourage more arrivals and did not address the root problem.
“We don’t think it’s the right priority,” he said. “If you have a burst pipe in your house, it is like worrying which rooms the water is going into instead of fixing the pipe. Of course we should deal with where the refugees should go once they are here, but first we should address the controls on how they are getting into Europe.” Referring to the use of tear gas and water cannon on migrants last week–which the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, described as “shocking”–Mr Szabadhegy argued that police had shown restraint rather than excessive force.
“These incidents were unfortunate, but it was not the Hungarian police who did the attack. Quite the opposite. The servicemen showed discipline and restraint against an increasingly violent and aggressive crowd, who chose to attack the police using rocks and cinder blocks and children as human shields. Given this awful situation, we are actually very insistent that the police operated on a proper basis.” Mr Szabadhegy said that Hungary’s position on the crisis was similar to Britain’s, in that allowing migrants to settle would simply risk encouraging more. He said the government had a multi-pronged plan to resolve the situation, which involved giving greater help to refuge camps in Syria’s neighbours–Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon–so that they could “stay as close as possible to their homes”.
He denied that Hungary was an intolerant country, saying that it already had a small community of Syrians who ran thriving businesses, and that there had been no attacks on migrants during the recent months of large scale arrivals.
“There is not east-west divide on this subject in Europe,” he said. “It is just that we suffered under communism and we are also much poorer so our economic and social capacity to accept migrants is just more limited.”
He also said it was hard to tell which of the migrants were genuine refugees fleeing war-torn countries like Syria, and which were not, as most got rid of their documents prior to trying to cross into Hungary. “Most of them get rid of any kind of ID by the time they get to the Hungarian border. In the woods there are ‘mini-cemeteries’ of abandoned documents . . . (disguising their nationality) is one of the reasons they get rid of their IDs.”
[Editor’s Note: You can reach the Hungarian embassy at [email protected]]