Donald Trump says he’s “tough on immigration,” and maybe he is.
But not like Hungarian PM Viktor Orban.
Last September, when things began to get out of hand on the Balkan route north to Germany, Orban decided to build a 100 mile long, 12-foot high razor wire migrant-be-gone fence on his country’s border with Serbia. Some refugees didn’t like that and decided to test Orban’s resolve. Here’s what happened next:
And here’s a chart which shows the rather dramatic effect Orban’s crackdown had on migrant flows into Hungary:
Orban was widely criticized for his approach to the refugee flows but his stance has been unwavering. “We hope that the messages we have been sending migrants for a long time have reached them.” Gyorgy Bakondi, an aide to the Prime Minister said. “Don’t come.”
Hungary was also a sharp critic of Brussels' attempt to impose bloc-wide migrant quotas, a system that has infuriated a number of member states who see the move as bullying by Jean Claude-Juncker and Angela Merkel who is of course hell bent on sticking to the "yes we can" migrant narrative despite the fact that, much like the reality another famous politician faced after spouting the same vacuous rhetoric, "no we can't" looks like a more accurate assessment.
On Wednesday, Orban took it up a notch. Hungary, he says, will call a referendum on migrant quotas.
"He said the plebiscite, the first of its kind in Europe, would be a major test of European democracy," Reuters reports, adding that "Orban has said the migrant quotas would redraw the ethnic, cultural and religious map of Hungary and Europe."
"Nobody has asked the European people so far whether they support, accept, or reject the mandatory migrant quotas," Orban proclaimed, at a press conference. ""The government is responding to public sentiment now: we Hungarians think introducing resettlement quotas for migrants without the backing of the people equals an abuse of power."
He's right. Regardless of whether taking in asylum seekers from war-torn countries is the "right" thing to do (and it very well may be from a humanitarian perspective), it's not up to Angela Merkel and a bunch of eurocrats who pander to her purse strings to decide how sovereign countries choose to deal with the crisis.
"To us this is a fundamental, unavoidable, essential question of Hungarian politics: can anyone else decide for Hungarians who we Hungarians should or should not live with?" the PM asked.
Meanwhile, Belgium is setting up border checks with France for fear that the clearing of the infamous Calais migrant camp (otherwise known as "the jungle" and profiled here) could precipitate refugee flows into the country.
"We already see movement of migrants from Calais toward our country," Interior Minister Jan Jambon told a press conference in Brussels. "Once the camps in France are cleared we could potentially see thousands."
"Belgium is not closing its borders, that's not what this is about, we are making targeted checks against a specific phenomenon," Jambon insisted. Of course he also said anyone caught would be instructed to immediately leave the country. After all, there were numerous reports to suggest that ISIS sympathizers were present at Calaise and we wouldn't want any more Abdelhamid Abaaouds running around in Brussels.
More and more, it's looking like Orban's approach - the fences and the "don't come" message - are being adopted even by the states who initially criticized him as being a kind of xenophobic maniac. The question now is how long it will be before other countries call referendums.