As Hungary Puts Up Razor Wire, Europe Turns to Turkey to Aid Refugee Crisis

Turmoil at European borders persists as officials scramble to prevent millions more Syrians from crossing them.

Croatian police control the flow of migrants walking to the border with Hungary after they arrived by train at Botovo, Croatia, on Oct. 16. (Photo: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

Oct 16, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

Calling out European Union leaders for failing to stem the flow of refugees over its borders, Hungary’s leaders announced Friday that the country would seal its border with Croatia at midnight. A 216-mile razor-wire fence has been constructed to block thousands of asylum seekers, in hopes of rerouting their path through neighboring Slovenia.

“If they are going to do it the way they have been doing it with the Serbian border, it will mean that no more migrants will be allowed through,” Babar Baloch, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Hungary, told The New York Times. “This is not going to end the crisis or the number of people who are trying to seek safety in Europe. It may reroute the population somewhere else, but this is not the final answer.”

This fence may cause the migrants’ path to Germany to shift further west into Slovenia, the Times reported. The small Central European nation has been preparing for this possibility by building 12 reception centers throughout the country. European Union members have clamored for months to prepare themselves for the continuous stream of migrants coming from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan, from which many of the millions of refugees are fleeing poverty and conflict.

Hungary, the Czech Republic, and other Eastern European countries have been criticized for their tepid and sometimes outright xenophobic response to the influx of migrants.

“Spiritually, Islam was never part of Europe,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Germany’s Focus weekly paper on Friday. “We in Hungary decide what we want or don’t want. We don’t want that.”

A report released this week by the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance also condemned Czech leaders for perpetuating Islamophobic hatred against immigrants and Roma people and suggested the country adapt its laws to permit the criminal prosecution of government officials who disseminate racism and xenophobia.

In January, for example, the right-wing populist party Dawn of Direct Democracy posted “Instruction[s] for protection against Islam” on its Facebook page, according to the report, which included encouraging people to “keep dogs and pigs and to walk them in the vicinity of the mosques.” The report’s authors note that hate speech is “often a first step in the process towards actual violence” and suggested that a law enforcement response would be appropriate.

“Count yourselves lucky if you are not beheaded,” was the frank response of Czech President Miloš Zeman to the report’s authors.

Germany has absorbed the majority of asylum seekers and garnered positive attention for its acceptance of the hundreds of thousands of migrants streaming through its borders. In just the first seven months of 2015, the country received more than 200,000 asylum applications. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been openly critical of Eastern European countries that haven’t followed the German example, suggesting they have forgotten their own not-so-distant history as refugees themselves.

“It makes me a bit sad that precisely those who can consider themselves lucky that they have lived to see the end of the Cold War now think that one can completely stay out of certain developments of globalization,” Merkel recently told members of the center-right European People’s Party.

Meanwhile, European leaders are focusing on pushing through a deal with Turkey to keep the more than 2 million Syrian refugees living there from rushing toward Europe’s borders. In exchange for offering safe harbor, Turkey would get more than 2 billion Euros in aid, leaders would resume negotiations on Turkey’s membership in the EU, and millions of Turks would get relaxed visa rules for European travel, among other perks, according to The Guardian. No deals with Turkey were finalized as the week drew to a close.

The summit, the fourth such meeting, was also a continuation of ongoing contentious discussions on how to fairly distribute refugees who have already entered Europe.

The group also agreed to strengthen the role of Frontex, the European border control agency, with more funding and other resources.