At the state funeral for the late Shimon Peres, former president of the State of Israel, the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said to me “I am lucky I was able to meet with such a historic figure before he died, and that I had the opportunity to be present personally at the funeral ceremony. This is a historic event.” This demonstrates the solidarity and friendship of Hungary with Israel.
That Friday, my prime minister went back to Budapest after a brief half day visit, to be able to participate in preparations for a national referendum on Sunday. And indeed, Hungarians voted on the migration issue that Sunday, making history by being the first European Union Member State – and so far the only one – in which voters have been asked the question that I believe may well determine the very existence of the European Union. Migration has become one of the biggest challenges the EU is facing now, as uncontrolled migration already played a significant role in Britain’s decision to exit from the EU.
After reading surprisingly critical reports and comments in the Israeli media on the referendum, I thought it could be useful to present the migration issue from
the point of view of the Hungarian ambassador to Israel. I’ve had the pleasure of serving as Hungary’s ambassador to Israel for the past three years, and I am now in a position to better understand the Israeli perspectives on a variety of issues, including on the defense of Israel but also on halting illegal work migration to Israel, and how similar the challenges are that Israel and Hungary face on this matter.
Millions of migrants from the Arab world and from Africa who are seeking jobs and a better standard of living, have entered Europe illegally. Among them one can also find Islamic radicals, even terrorists. Hence, as Israel itself has experienced, uncontrolled and illegal entry into either Israel or Hungary is simply not an option.
The challenge that Hungary faced was hundreds of thousands of immigrants — at the peak of the phenomenon even 10,000 per day — illegally crossing its border and aggressively and intimidatingly travelling across our country. It was then that the Hungarian government decided to restore law and order, and to protect its citizens. We have built a triple defense system comprised of physical, legal and military elements. Sparing no effort, money or energy, we built a fence on the south along the Serbian-Hungarian and Croatian-Hungarian borders in record time. I see much in common with the challenge that Israel faced when thousands of illegal migrants entered via Sinai and congregated in such places as Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods. Israel consequently erected a fence along its border with Egypt.
Hungary tried to find a common European solution, but it turned out that there was no such plan on the table. We were compelled to act on our own to protect the security of the people living in the Hungary’s southern areas, and to safeguard Hungarian sovereignty. A decision was made in Brussels to use a quota mechanism, with no upper limit, to distribute among Member States the illegal migrants who have already entered the European Union. The EU wanted to share the burden, attempting to force this solution even on non-consenting Member States
“The goal [of the referendum] was to clarify the position that Hungarians prefer in the case of mass migration,” as Prime Minister Orbán said. “The referendum clarified that Hungarians want to decide who Hungary would take in.” Like the Israelis, Hungarians want to have the final say on who enters their country. Hungary could not agree to allow the European Union to impose upon it tens of thousands of migrants from Syria, Iraq, Libya or any other countries.
What should Hungary have done, accept the fact that from now on we are not the ones who will determine who enters our country? Hungary agrees, of course, that real refugees according to the Geneva Agreement should be accepted by law, however the majority of the people coming to Europe now from the Middle East and from Africa are not political refugees. As is familiar to Israelis from their experience in the southern neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, receiving masses of illegal migrants creates more social, cultural, economic and religious tensions, as well as the threat from extreme Islamic terrorists that are embedded amongst them.
Dr. Andor Nagy is the Hungarian Ambassador to Israel.