Saturday

7th Dec 2019

Opinion

Pig-head propaganda: Hungary's war on refugees

  • Schopflin, an MEP from Orban's party, said pigs’ heads should be put on border with Serbia to deter Muslim refugees (Photo: Ashley MacKinnon MacKinnon)

“What crime did we commit for 40 police officers to surround us? It’s like they think we are terrorists or criminals,” 48-year old Khatoon, a Yazidi woman from Iraq who had several family members who were murdered or taken hostage by the jihadist group Isis, told me.

For a month, she had been forced to wait in the mud at the Hungarian border to file her asylum application.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

Khatoon’s analysis is spot on. Over the past two years, I have documented abysmal conditions in camps, detention of children, abusive legal changes designed to deny asylum seekers access to protection, and brutal pushbacks at the Hungary-Serbia border.

The authorities are undoubtedly hoping the abuses will deter others.

Throughout this period, the Hungarian government has stirred up xenophobic sentiments against refugees and migrants and has gone to great lengths, and cost, to spew hateful messages nationwide.

Along with restrictive new laws making life difficult for asylum seekers and refugees, anti-migrant rhetoric by decision makers and high-ranking politicians is commonplace.

Asylum seekers and refugees are called “intruders,” and “potential terrorists,” bent on destroying Western civilisation and Christianity. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban himself in July referred to migration as “poison.”

The government refuses to participate in a binding EU agreement requiring member states to relocate asylum seekers equitably across the Union.

Hungary, a country of some 10 million people, has been asked to accept a mere 1,294 asylum seekers, but the government has railed against even this small number and is trying to overturn the deal in the EU Court of Justice.

Orban has also called a national referendum for 2 October, asking Hungarians whether they want the EU to impose refugee quotas in Hungary without the consent of the Hungarian parliament.

Did you know?

A nationwide, government-financed billboard campaign began in July with messages including: “Did you know that since the beginning of the immigration crisis more than 300 people died as a result of terror attacks in Europe?” and “Did you know that Brussels wants to settle a whole city’s worth of illegal immigrants in Hungary?”.

Another poster said: “Did you know that since the beginning of the immigration crisis the harassment of women has risen sharply in Europe?”.

This state-sponsored campaign of xenophobic disinformation is costing Hungarian taxpayers the equivalent of over €16 million - or approximately €12,000 per asylum seeker Hungary has been asked to take.

Imagine if this money had instead been spent on improving conditions in reception centres and establishing integration support programmes for refugees and asylum seekers in line with Hungary’s EU obligations and shared responsibility.

The government’s anti-refugee propaganda has been amplified by pro-government media. MTVA, the state-controlled TV station, frequently used news breaks during the European Football Championship in June and the Olympic Games in August to devote airtime to anti-migrant “news” items, depicting asylum seekers and refugees as criminals, terrorists and people who come to mooch on Western welfare systems.

The horrors these desperate people are fleeing – war and oppression - are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the context of the European refugee crisis, neither in the media, nor in political discourse.

Instead, the chorus of anti-migrant voices is growing. Recently, Gyorgy Schopflin, a ruling party member with a seat in the European Parliament, suggested on Twitter that pigs’ heads should be placed on the border fence with Serbia to deter Muslim refugees from entering Hungary.

Laszlo Toroczkai, vice-president of the far-right Jobbik party, who is also the mayor of Asotthalom, a village on the Hungarian-Serbian border, proudly posts pictures on his Facebook page showing images of asylum seekers and migrants lying face down on the ground with hands zip-locked on their backs and with captions such as “Hungary vs. Intruders” plus a football-type scoreboard.

Hungarian civil society initiatives and alternative media are doing their best to counter the hate.

Countering hate

The Two Tailed Dog Party, a group that has registered as a political party to spread its views through satire, opened a counter-campaign mimicking the government one with its own messages such as: “Did you know that the average Hungarian sees more UFOs than refugees in a lifetime?”.

The EU has so far been silent on the current xenophobic anti-refugee campaign, as well as on Hungary’s brutal beatings at the border.

Meanwhile, Khatoon, whose name I changed for her protection, is still waiting in the mud to file that asylum application.

She has been made to wait there by a government that spares no expense to deter people from entering Hungary.

Their approach has created a miserable and legally unsound situation for those lining up for months to file an asylum claim and untenable conditions for the few who get protection. She has the odds stacked against her.

Lydia Gall is a Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, an international NGO with its headquarters in New York

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Hungary steps up campaign on migration referendum

Hungary's government has unveiled six billboards linking the migration crisis to terrorism and crime in an effort to win backing for its referendum on the EU's migration policy.

Orban: EU leaders lack will to stop migrants

Hungarian PM said European leaders lacked will to create migration plan and vowed to fight mandatory relocations, while building a fence on Romanian border.

Does EU have role in stopping backsliding in Georgia?

The EU's eastern neighbourhood is in flux. The collapse of the pro-reform government in Moldova and the stagnation of anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine was recently followed yet by another political crisis in Georgia.

Column

Keep an eye on the Swiss!

So many things are happening in Europe that many of us will have missed the small political earthquake that took place in Switzerland recently.

News in Brief

  1. Greece denies access to fair asylum process, report says
  2. Report: Self-regulation of social media 'not working'
  3. Turkey: Greek expulsion of Libyan envoy 'outrageous'
  4. Merkel coalition may survive, says new SPD co-leader
  5. Von der Leyen Ethiopia visit a 'political statement'
  6. Over 5,500 scientists ask EU to protect freshwater life
  7. Iran defies EU and UN on ballistic missiles
  8. Committee of the Regions: bigger budget for Green Deal

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

European beekeeping in crisis

Europe's bee population is dying. The number of pollinator species threatened by extinction is increasing each year, and human activity is the main cause.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion
  2. UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK
  3. Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres
  4. Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy
  5. Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?
  6. Blood from stone: What did British PR firm do for Malta?
  7. EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology
  8. Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us