It was one of the most heinous crimes from the dark days of the migrant crisis in 2015. The trial began this week in Hungary of eleven men charged in the deaths of 71 migrants, victims of human traffickers, found in an abandoned refrigerator truck in August of that year.
The accused include nine Bulgarians, one Afghan and one Lebanese national. They all face charges of human trafficking and torture. Four of them have also been charged with "homicide with particular cruelty" and face life imprisonment.
The crime became a symbol of the sinister role that human trafficking has played in the migration crisis and the tragic price that some pay for embarking on the long and dangerous journey to Europe. The horror of human trafficking is one of the many reasons that the Orbán Government has staunchly insisted on tough border security, opposed policies that would encourage migrants to come to Europe, and proposed asylum processing centers in hotspots outside the territory of Europe.
When this crime took place in August 2015, Hungary’s border fence was not yet complete. Today, Hungary’s stretch of the external border of Europe’s Schengen Area is secured by a double border fence. That has dramatically reduced the chances that this crime could be committed today in Hungary.
Given those facts, we were a little surprised to see recent German press reports on the case, like this one from Süddeutsche Zeitung, which claimed that the “death of 71 in Hungarian refrigerator car could have been avoided if the Hungarian authorities acted immediately”.
It was a “disgraceful” accusation, said János Lázár, minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office, and clearly directed at Hungary because of our opposition to migrant quotas. Acting immediately on what?
“These conversations weren’t conducted in Hungarian, by Hungarian suspects,” said Minister of Interior Sándor Pintér, explaining the surveillance intel, “but in Pashto and other languages and this is what was in our possession.”
“We need to understand,” Minister Pinér continued, “this crime wasn’t organized in Hungary, but abroad, not by Hungarians, but foreigners, they were only travelling through Hungary.”
“Without the Hungarian police,” Minister Lázár said, “the criminals would have never been arrested.”
But somehow, it seems, Hungary and the Orbán Government must take the blame.
The cynical reporting from the German press reminded me of another case recently, the European Parliament’s resolution condemning Hungary in part for the conviction and sentencing of Ahmed H. This one defies comprehension.
Ahmed H. is a Syrian national with residence in Cyprus, an EU member state. On September 16, 2016, he stood with a bullhorn at the front of an angry mob of (mostly young, male) migrants – who had not gone through any background checks or awaited any official asylum procedures – who were demanding entry to the European Union’s Schengen Area. To let them pass would have been completely illegal under the Dublin Protocols and at odds with the Geneva Convention provisions for asylum-seekers. Denied illegal entry, Ahmed H. and the mob began throwing rocks at the uniformed, Hungarian personnel protecting the border of Europe. A video of the violence is available here. Such an act, attacking the external border of Europe, constitutes an act of terrorism under Hungarian law.
The European Parliament resolution criticizing Hungary said this: “Whereas 11 refugees (sic) referred to as the ‘Röszke 11’, present on 16 September 2016, the day after Hungary closed its border with Serbia, have been charged with committing an act of terror and sentenced to prison, including Ahmed H., a Syrian resident in Cyprus sentenced to 10 years in prison in an unfair (sic) trial in November 2016 on the sole grounds of using a megaphone to ease tensions and of throwing three objects at the border police”.
Let’s get this straight. A mob besieged the European border, demanding illegal entry “to pass through”, and members of the European Parliament, charged with representing the interests of European citizens, saw fit to take their side against a member state.
“Following the closure of the Hungarian-Serbian border,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, “illegal immigrants led by Ahmed H. launched an attack on Hungarian police, who they bombarded for hours with stones, pieces of concrete and bottles”, the Foreign Minister said. “The 17 May EP ruling against Hungary exonerated this man, meaning it took a stance in support of a terrorist and against the attacked police officers and Hungary in a period in which Europe is facing a more serious threat of terrorism than ever before”.
“Ahmed H. is an alleged political refugee with seven passports and a villa in Cyprus,” said János Lázár, minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office. He “attacked the border and the police with his associates, and he was convicted by the Hungarian court. European left-wing groups decided to side with this man… and want to present him as the idealised refugee.”
Strange indeed. When it comes to defending the external borders of Europe’s Schengen Area, Hungary is damned if it doesn’t and damned if it does. We rang the alarm bell on human trafficking before the border was secure and are blamed by the German press for the tragic death of those 71 poor souls in August 2015. We’ve staunchly defended the border of Europe against illegal immigration, protecting our portion of the external border according to our treaty obligations, and the European Parliament denounces Hungary for defending Europe against a stone-throwing mob.