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Hungary to EU: The Migration Crisis Is Germany’s Problem

As thousands protest outside train stations in Budapest, Hungary places the blame for Europe's migration crisis on Germany.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 03:  Police stand guard as migrants sit on the platform of Keleti station after it was reopened this morning in central Budapest on September 3, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Although the station has reopened all international trains to Western Europe have bee cancelled. According to the Hungarian authorities a record number of migrants from many parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia are crossing the border from Serbia. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called Balkans route has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The massive increase, said to be the largest migration of people since World War II, led Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban to order Hungary's army to build a steel and barbed wire security barrier along its entire border with Serbia, after more than 100,000 asylum seekers from a variety of countries and war zones entered the country so far this year.  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 03: Police stand guard as migrants sit on the platform of Keleti station after it was reopened this morning in central Budapest on September 3, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Although the station has reopened all international trains to Western Europe have bee cancelled. According to the Hungarian authorities a record number of migrants from many parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia are crossing the border from Serbia. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called Balkans route has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The massive increase, said to be the largest migration of people since World War II, led Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban to order Hungary's army to build a steel and barbed wire security barrier along its entire border with Serbia, after more than 100,000 asylum seekers from a variety of countries and war zones entered the country so far this year. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Thousands of migrants might be camped out in front of Budapest’s Keleti train station this week, but according to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the migration crisis isn’t Hungary’s or Europe’s problem — it’s Germany’s.  

Speaking at a Thursday press conference in Brussels, Orban claimed none of the migrants passing through Hungary want to stay there, and Hungarian officials’ “job is only to register them.”

“Nobody would like to stay in Hungary, neither in Slovakia nor Poland nor Estonia,” he said. “All of them would like to go to Germany.”

On his last point, Orban is right.

The masses of migrants cramming into trains in Budapest are indeed desperate to arrive in Germany, where the government says it is prepared to accept at least 800,000 asylum-seekers this year and has begun accepting asylum claims even from those who first landed in Europe by way of Italy or Greece. Hungary, on the other hand, has made moves to build a wall on its border with Serbia to keep the migrants out.

But despite its disinterest in keeping the refugees in Hungarian territory, Budapest refuses to budge on EU rules that require migrants register in the first country of arrival in the 28-state alliance. Thousands of migrants boarded trains from Budapest to Germany on Monday, before officials at Keleti — overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people — stopped allowing them on board Tuesday. The train station reopened its trains to migrants Thursday, but only for them to travel domestically, mainly to holding camps.

According to Reuters, a government spokesman said Wednesday that “a train ticket does not overwrite EU rules.”

Orban’s eagerness Thursday to place the blame for chaos in Budapest on Germany’s migration policies was not well-received by European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who also spoke at the press conference. He was visibly upset by Hungary’s unwillingness to take responsibility for the migrants pouring over its borders each day.

“What we are seeing for the time being is egoism instead of common European sense,” Schulz said. “To say, ‘Yeah, you know we have refugees all over in Europe, but they all want to go to Germany and therefore we are not concerned’ is effective, but wrong. And therefore I think we need a fair and just distribution.”

The Hungarian parliament began an extraordinary session Thursday to debate closing its borders, deploying military to control angry crowds, and constructing additional holding camps for those who already made it through.

But these asylum-seekers — most of whom have already survived perilous journeys through North Africa and the Mediterranean — are not interested in staying in camps in a country that does not want them.

Hundreds of those waiting to board trains have begun staging protests, chanting “Germany! Germany!”

Some who were forced off trains bound for Germany or Austria, despite having purchased tickets, even laid down on the rail tracks to keep from being left behind.

And Hungary is far from the only EU country unwilling to make permanent room for the refugees.

Slovakia came under fire in August for agreeing to accept only a small number of Syrian refugees — so long as they were Christian. And after Iceland’s leaders claimed they only had the resources to take in 50 refugees, more than 10,000 Icelandic families offered up their homes to those fleeing war in Syria.

It’s this lack of political unity, Schulz said, that could threaten the future of the continent’s intergovernmental system. “This is a crucial moment for the European Union,” he said Thursday. “A deeper split of the union is a risk we cannot exclude.”

Photo credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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