Hungary Urges Refocus on Migrant Crisis as Covid Recedes and Attempts on Border Triple

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ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images

The Hungarian government is urging Europe to refocus on the long-running migrant crisis as the Chinese coronavirus pandemic recedes, warning that attempts on its own southern border have tripled on last year.

“As the coronavirus began wreaking havoc all over the globe, and particularly in Europe, in 2020, public discourse shifted away from one of the most important issues that has defined much of the continent’s everyday life since 2015… illegal migration,” wrote the Central European country’s Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Relations, Zoltán Kovács, on the About Hungary government website.

The migrant crisis in Europe has largely lessened in intensity since its peak in 2015-16, despite some regional hotspots where the situation has worsened — such as the English Channel, where people-smugglers are launching boatloads of migrants from the French coast to England in ever-increasing numbers — with the pandemic having dampened irregular population flows significantly.

But the issue has never truly gone away — indeed, the Islamist government of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was trying to reignite the crisis in earnest before the pandemic took hold, transporting migrants including freed prisoners to their border with Greece by the thousands — and the Hungarians have noted a major increase in attempted incursions.

“Recently, the border reports of the Hungarian Police have shown worrying signs, specifically a huge increase in illegal activity around our southern border areas – that’s the external border of Europe’s Schengen Area,” Kovács noted.

“Based on the latest statistics, both the number of captured human traffickers and the number of illegal border-crossing attempts have tripled in the first five months of 2021 compared to the same period last year.”

Crunching the numbers, Kovács explained that between January and May 20th in 2020, border police had blocked 9,521 illegal border crossing attempts and detained 110 suspected of human traffickers, while the figures for the same period in 2021 stand at 34,899 and 321, respectively.

The Hungarian expressed concern at a European Union proposal in December 2020 to tackle the issue of immigration more generally by increasing efforts to integrate some 34 million resident migrants.

“Hungary, joined by the countries of Central Europe and the Mediterranean, has a different proposal. Let’s stop migration at our borders and bring help to where it’s needed most,” he said, quoting Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán’s similar call to “take the help there instead of bringing the trouble over here.”

There is some indication that the EU establishment in Western Europe may be at least pretending to adopt a more ‘Hungarian’ line on mass migration, legal and illegal, with former Brexit negotiator and French foreign minister Michel Barnier — a possible candidate for the “centre-right” in the upcoming French presidential race — going so far as to echo what was once a manifesto policy of Britain’s Nigel Farage by calling for a three to five-year moratorium on immigration to his home country.

There have been small but significant flashpoints in the European migrant crisis in recent weeks, with the Spanish border city of Ceuta — an enclave of just 84,000 on the coast of North Africa, just across from the Mediterranean from Spain proper — seeing thousands of migrants surge in from Morocco, and Cyprus warning that it is entering a state of emergency after a rush of boat migrants from the Syrian port of Tartus.

The sudden surge on Spanish territory was so great, Spain’s security services lost track of a number of known jihadists they were monitoring as they approached the border. The nation is now hunting for the dangerous men within its own territory after they were able to slip by, undetected in the chaos.

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