By Rebecca McCray
As the influx of migrants fleeing Africa and the Middle East for Europe continues, countries in the European Union are bickering over how to share the bureaucratic burden of resettling approximately 60,000 asylum seekers. The migrants, many of whom are from Syria and Eritrea, have posed a significant challenge for Greece and Italy, whose location makes the countries the gateway to Europe after the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.
While some of the countries participating in discussions about the migrant crisis in Brussels this week agreed that migrants should be evenly distributed throughout the 28-member EU, countries like Hungary and Lithuania have expressed pointed resistance to the proposed resettlement plan.
Hungary’s resistance is taking the form of a 4 meter-high fence along its border with Serbia, constructed to keep migrants out. “This is a necessary step,” government spokesman Zoltán Kovács told The Guardian. “We need to stop the flood.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán attracted criticism in April when he announced the government would send a survey to all Hungarian adults seeking their views on the link between migration and terrorism, and whether or not they would support detaining migrants in camps. Cecile Pouilly, a spokesperson for the United Nations’ human rights office called the survey “extremely biased.”
"It is this government’s duty to fight against discrimination and xenophobia and by linking these two issues they are doing the opposite," Pouilly reportedly said during a U.N. briefing in Geneva.
The Hungarian government has also used taxpayer dollars to erect anti-migrant billboards around the country, according to the BBC. One such billboard reads “If you come to Hungary, don’t take the jobs of Hungarians.” Hungary, like the rest of the world, was hit hard by the financial crisis in 2008, but its economy has steadily been recovering in recent years.
To counter the government’s campaign, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ office in central Europe has published stories of immigrants who have successfully joined Hungarian society, such as Zia Karimi, an immigrant who fled persecution in Afghanistan and is now a chef in a Budapest hotel.
Meanwhile, anti-migrant sentiment is growing in other Eastern and Central European countries. The Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia have also rejected the EU’s resettlement quota plan. An editorial from the Slovak liberal daily paper SME argued that these countries have “forgotten their own refugee past,” pointing out how many Poles, Czechoslovakians, and Hungarians were forced to flee during communist reign.
At the same time, anti-Islam sentiment is reportedly on the rise in the Czech Republic. A Facebook group called “We do not want Islam in the Czech Republic” circulated a petition that has apparently been signed by 145,000 Czech citizens opposing the integration of refugees. At the presentation of the petition to the Czech Parliament on Tuesday, members of the group allegedly made racist comments, including a warning that refugees from Africa and the Middle East will introduce dangerous diseases to the country—a common refrain among xenophobes.
Discrimination against groups perceived as outsiders in Central and Eastern Europe has historically fallen largely on Jewish and Romani, or Roma, peoples native to those lands. Today, anti-Semitic and anti-Roma sentiment appears to be echoed in these countries’ rejection of the current wave of refugees.