illegal-migrantsBUDAPEST: Illegal immigration is a threat to Hungary and all of Europe, with the biggest risk coming from hundreds of millions of people from the “depths of Africa” looking to escape poverty, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said yesterday. Over 90,000 migrants and refugees have reached Hungary so far this year and it is building a 4-m high fence on its border with Serbia to stem the flow. While the government had set a Nov 30 deadline, Orban said the fence would be completed by Aug 31.

Speaking at a cultural festival in Baile Tusnad, Romania, Orban accused the European Union of failing to defend its citizens from the “masses of illegal immigrants,” who he said threatened the cultural identity of European countries and contributed to increased terrorism, unemployment and criminality. “For us, today Europe is at stake,” Orban said. “The survival, disappearance or, more precisely, the transformation beyond recognition of the European citizen’s lifestyle, European values and the European nations.” “The question now is not only what kind of Europe we Hungarians would like to live in,” Orban said. “Rather, will all that we now call Europe exist at all? It is clear that we can’t filter out the hostile terrorists in the huge crowds,” Orban said, adding that there had been a “drastic increase” in crime where illegal migrants lived. “We would like for Europe to keep belonging to the Europeans,” Orban said. “We want to preserve the Hungarian Hungary.” Most refugees who request asylum in Hungary quickly leave for other destinations in the EU like Germany or Sweden before their cases are settled.

Orban has repeatedly said that Hungary does not want any migrants from outside Europe and has been granting asylum to just a few hundred annually in the past several years. “The really serious threats are arriving not from the war zones … but from the depths of Africa,” Orban said. “Northern Africa today can no longer defend Europe from the immense masses of people.” Orban spoke to mostly young supporters at the same cultural festival where a year ago he outlined plans to convert Hungary into an “illiberal state” such as Russia, China and Singapore. That idea, as well as his accusations that civic groups critical of his government were working for foreign interests, drew widespread criticism, including from US President Barack Obama. This time, Orban lashed out mainly against the EU leadership in Brussels and leftwing ideology, accusing them of willfully supporting immigration to weaken Europe’s nations and their unique cultures. “The European left sees the problem of immigration not as a source of danger but as an opportunity,” Orban said. “They believe … that the escalation of immigration can extremely weaken or even eliminate the national structures.”

Orban is in his third term as prime minister. He first led Hungary between 1998 and 2002, returning with a landslide majority in 2010 after Socialist-led governments were unable to solve the country’s growing economic problems. Orban said Hungary will finish building its anti-migrant fence on its southern border with Serbia by Aug 31, ahead of a previous November deadline. “The fence will be built by August 31, any schedules different from that are invalid,” he said. Work began last week on a short test section of the fence, a bid to stem a surge in 2015 in the number of migrants and asylum-seekers crossing into Hungary from Serbia. Last week, Hungary’s defence and interior ministers said the wire-mesh barrier would be completed along the entire 175-km length of the border by November. So far this year, Hungary has registered more than 80,000 asylum-seekers, up from 43,000 last year and just over 2,000 asylum applications in 2012.

Most come from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and African countries, and hope to cross into Austria and Germany or further west. Unlike its neighbor to the south, Hungary is an EU member and is also in the bloc’s passport-free Schengen zone which means that once migrants are inside the country, they can easily travel elsewhere. The fence plan, one of a series of hardline anti-migration measures launched by Orban, has caused alarm in Serbia, although Belgrade has conceded that Hungary has the right to protect its own borders as it sees fit. The Hungarian parliament recently toughened asylum application rules, and allowing for the detention of migrants in temporary camps. Last week, Hungary also declared Serbia a “safe country” which can allow it to quickly deport asylumseekers. — Agencies