As the refugee crisis in Europe continues to divide the continent, world leaders gather in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly, and the issue of refugees tops the agenda.
Among European nations, there is a lack of consensus on how to proceed. One of the countries that very early decided to go its own way was Hungary, and it has been severely criticised for its approach.
The right to a safe life is a fundamental human right, but picking a country where you would like to live in is not among fundamental human rights. So that’s why I raised the issue whether you can consider anyone as a refugee, who crosses at least four peaceful countries, like Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and then arrives to Hungary, because these people who seek for asylum had already at least four opportunities before Hungary to ask for asylum … It’s not only us, it’s also the migrants as well who have to respect international and national regulations.
Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s foreign minister
Last year, Hungary built a fence along its border with Serbia and is deporting anyone caught climbing over it.
“Our responsibility is to protect the border, and there are certain regulations in Europe which you have to comply with if you want to enter the territory of a country. And since there is no war in Serbia, there is no reason to let people come in into the territory of Hungary, breaking the European and national regulations,” Peter Szijjarto, the Hungarian foreign minister, explains.
The Hungarian government has refused to sign on to EU’s programme forcing member states to accept refugee quotas – something that has led to an open split. It became evident when the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, greeted the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban with the words: “Hello, dictator”.
And Juncker has not been the only one to express his disagreement. Jean Asselbourn, Luxembourg’s foreign affairs minister, recently said that “anyone who, like Hungary, builds fences against refugees from war or who violates press freedom and judicial independence should be excluded temporarily – or if necessary, forever – from the EU.” He argued it is the only way to “preserve the cohesion and values of the European Union”.
But despite criticism, Szijjarto stands tall for the country’s refugee policy and challenges what he calls Europe’s “political correctness”.
“The greatest challenge that the EU has had to face since its foundation is the challenge of the refugees coming into Europe … One of the root causes for this challenge, and the fact that we have not been successful to overcome [it], is that we are not brave enough when we have been speaking about this … we have used a politically correct language, a very hypocritic one …” says Szijjarto.
In fact, Hungary will hold a referendum in early October as the government seeks public support for its programme, and it is also teaming up with other Eastern European countries to push for serious policy changes in the EU – bringing the bloc to an existential crisis.
So what is next for the European Union? What’s Hungary approach? And what impact will Hungary’s referendum have on the EU?
Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s foreign minister, talks to Al Jazeera about Hungary’s controversial border policy, the referendum, and his perspective on the refugee crisis.