On Tuesday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban served notice that he absolutely was not joking around about ensuring that an influx of migrants fleeing war-torn Syria did not end up “changing” Hungary’s “1000-year old Christian culture.”
So serious about this was Orban, that he built himself a 100 mile-long, 12-foot anti-migrant fence out of razor wire along the border with Serbia, passed a set of emergency laws that allow for the arrest and subsequent prosecution of anyone who damages his new fence, and then sent police on horseback as well as the military to enforce his new laws.
Here is the one-day result of that crackdown:
And here’s Gyorgy Bakondi, an aide to Prime Minister Viktor Orban: “We hope that the messages we have been sending migrants for a long time have reached them. Don’t come. Because this route doesn’t lead where you want to go.”
So, for now anyway, it’s mission accomplished for Orban.
But this isn’t a story about Viktor Orban, it’s a story about migrants and while Orban may succeed in ensuring that Hungary isn’t inundated with asylum seekers (that is unless Germany decides to make quotas mandatory), closing one border won’t keep the huddled masses fleeing Syria from finding their way north to Germany.
As we noted on Tuesday, Hungary has begun sending refugees back to Serbia which is of course in no position to handle the influx even if it wanted to. Serbian labor minister Aleksandar Vulin had the following message for Budapest:
"They have not done anything wrong by any criminal law. You cannot send them to Serbia without their permission. These people don't want stay in Serbia. They want to travel to Europe or wherever they want. We are not a concentration camp and we do not expect anyone to consider us as a concentration camp."
So, predictably, the new favored route to Germany will go through Croatia. Here’s WSJ:
About 150 migrants crossed into Croatia from Serbia overnight, the Croatian interior ministry said on Wednesday, marking an alternative route for refugees to enter the European Union after Hungary fenced-off its border with Serbia.
The migrants were being registered at a border crossing at Tovarnik on Wednesday, a Croatian interior ministry spokeswoman said.
Buses in Serbia have been taking migrants to Sid, a town on the Serbian side of the border, Serbian and Hungarian media reported after Hungary erected a 110-mile long fence in an effort to stem the flow of refugees. Migrants would then enter Croatia, some through points other than the official border crossing.
Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said his country would handle migrants or direct them further north to the more affluent European countries, mostly Germany and Sweden, where most migrants have said they wish to go.
Here's a look at the current state of border controls (courtesy of BBC) followed by a graphic that takes a more granular look at people flows in the region (via Frontex):
But the new route presents its own set of challenges, both for Croatia and for the refugees. Via The New York Times:
The closing of Hungary’s borders has raised concerns among humanitarian groups that migrants seeking to get to Croatia could inadvertently cross through areas near the Hungarian-Croatian border that are littered with thousands of land mines left from the Balkan wars of the 1990s. On Wednesday, Croatian demining experts were sent to the area where many migrants were arriving, Reuters reported.
The countries of the former Yugoslavia, which were torn apart by the wars, have thus far taken a tolerant and welcoming stance toward the migrants, who have viewed the region as a transit zone rather than a final destination. But with Hungary’s decision to criminalize the breaching of its borders, countries like Serbia and Croatia, which are relatively homogeneous and poor compared with some of their richer European neighbors, could soon confront a stream of migrants for which they are ill prepared.
Through it all, the allure of a new life in Germany far outweighs the risks for most asylum seekers, especially considering the horrors in Syria that they have managed to escape. Indeed, the picture the Germans are painting about what it's like to arrive in the country couldn't be more different than what now welcomes refugees at the Hungarian border. Compare and contrast:
For Chancellor Angela Merkel, the German response to the crisis has done wonders to restore her reputation which, as regular readers are no doubt acutely aware, was tarnished by Berlin's hardline stance throughout the protracted Greek bailout negotiations. And although Merkel's position carries significant political risks, she seems to be as resolute in her beliefs and Orban is in his own. Here's Bloomberg:
It was when the numbers became faces that German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a decision that could make or break her political legacy.
As she toured a refugee center in the eastern German town of Heidenau on Aug. 26, hearing stories from Syrians about traumatic journeys to flee their civil war, protesters against their arrival jeered and shouted abuse. Some called her a “traitor to the nation.” The experience left her shaken but determined to act, according to two close Merkel aides.
What ensued was a strategy for dealing with a flood of refugees by simply letting them come. While her open-door policy transformed her image almost overnight from the scourge of the Greeks into the conscience of Europe, it threatens to split the continent and presents a domestic high-wire balancing act even more dramatic than the euro crisis.
“If we now have to start apologizing for showing a friendly face in response to an emergency situation, then that’s not my country,” Merkel said at a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday.
The question now, is whether Merkel will seek to use Germany's financial and political clout to force other EU nations to soften their stance on refugees. As we said on Tuesday, "the perception that Germany is forcing an unwanted demographic shift might well serve to fan the flames not only of nationalism but of religious intolerance, especially given the likelihood that those opposed to settling the migrants will be predisposed to stirring up fears of ISIS operatives slipping into Europe disguised as refugees."
And that's not all. To let some countries tell it, were Germany to impose its will on recalcitrant states by force, they may well destroy the EU for good. We close with the following from Reuters:
Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed for European unity after one of her ministers called for financial penalties against countries that refused to accommodate their share of the migrants, provoking anger in central Europe.
A Czech official described such threats as empty but nonetheless "damaging" while Slovakia said they would bring the "end of the EU".