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Sep 11, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

The New York Times editors really still don’t get it

“Hungary is making Europe’s migrant crisis worse,” according to the New York Times editorial board in an op-ed published over the weekend. How?

In response to what the editors admit is an “indisputably difficult problem,” Hungary and other “inhospitable” countries of Central and Eastern Europe “have stubbornly blocked entry to refugees” (sic).

The editors single out “hard-line” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and take issue with his “arrogant” request for EU funding support “to tighten his border against migrants”. Hungary’s determined insistence on secure borders is making the migrant crisis worse, according to the editorial board, which argues that

“it is incumbent on Europe to continue to look for humanitarian solutions, whether by helping to resolve the conflicts or ease the poverty that drive people to flee, or by making room for those who reach its shores. That effort and burden must be shared, and it must be based on international law and European values, which include tolerance, cultural diversity, protection of minorities and a rejection of xenophobia.”

Good to know that the NYT editors believe it’s “incumbent on Europe” to solve the migration crisis, but as I’ve written on this blog before (“Dear New York Times Editors: You just don’t get it, do you?”), they continue to show just how much they don’t understand. Admittedly, it’s not easy to grasp this “indisputably difficult problem” from the comforts of Midtown Manhattan, but if we’re going to have a serious conversation about it, we all need to understand some basic facts.

To begin, let’s get something straight about borders. “A country that is unable to protect its borders,” as Prime Minister Orbán has said, “is no country at all.”

The Orbán Government has built a fence on the southern border of Hungary because it’s an external border of the European Union’s Schengen Area. It was not simply “to tighten his border,” as they say, but to defend Europe and uphold treaty obligations, which include preventing illegal immigration into the EU. Maintaining the security and integrity of the borders of the Schengen zone, the borderless area that allows freedom of movement, is essential to the EU’s security and the workings of the internal market. That’s a key point here.

Strong and secure borders are not making the migration crisis worse. On the contrary! It’s weak, undefended borders that are aggravating the crisis by creating a “pull factor,” encouraging migrants to set out on the dangerous journey. It’s the failure to secure the borders that has fueled an industry of human trafficking that prey on migrants. And it’s the failure to secure the external borders that has led to hundreds of thousands of migrants illegally entering the territory of the EU.

Prime Minister Orbán has been arguing since the early days of the migration crisis that the EU should step up efforts to provide aid directly to the territories immediately affected by conflict. The prime minister was among the first European leaders to propose assistance to those EU member states that cannot meet their border protection responsibilities and, furthermore, to set up processing centers in hotspots outside the territory of the EU in countries like Libya to receive migrants (an idea that President Emmanual Macron now also promotes).

Hungary’s securing of an external border of the 510 million-strong European community to ease the migration pressure on the old continent is a meaningful demonstration of our solidarity, and it’s helping to bring the migration crisis under control. If you don’t believe me, ask a citizen of Austria or Germany what they think of the fence we built on Europe’s border.

But proposals that would effectively bring this “difficult problem” to the territory of Europe – proposals like Brussels’ mandatory migrant resettlement quota – are making the migration crisis worse because they will continue to encourage illegal migration.

We also need to get something straight about what the NYT casually refers to as international law and European values, language that appeals to the ‘limousine liberal’ readership of the Times. There is no international law, no European treaty that gives Brussels the authority to decide on immigration. Hungary acknowledges last week’s decision of the European Court of Justice, but, as Prime Minister Orbán said last week, “we also contest the policy of Brussels that wants to settle anyone in a Member State against the will of the nation states.” Only Hungary has the right to decide on who gets to live in Hungary.

Here in the real world, on the front lines of the migration crisis, an overwhelming majority of Hungarian citizens want their own government – not Brussels – to make decisions on immigration (same is true for most European citizens). As the government responsible for the safety and security of Hungarian citizens – as well as the citizens of Europe – we will not apologize for continuing to assert our right to make our own decisions on immigration and to keep Europe’s borders strong.