As It Happens

Tide of asylum seekers is illegal and unwelcome, says Hungarian government spokesman

Zoltan Kovacs argues that the vast majority of those arriving at Hungary's borders are economic migrants, not refugees, and says that accepting a large number of Muslims would threaten the "Christian" nature of Europe.
Hungarian government spokesperson Zoltan Kovacs, and migrants from Syria sit in front of riot police after crossing into Hungary near the village of Roszke, Sept. 5, 2015. (Twitter and Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Migrants and refugees are not welcome in Hungary.

That's clear to the flood of people from places like Syria and Iraq who've walked for weeks to reach the country's southern border. They've been confronted by riot police, pepper spray and razor wire.

The Hungarian government does not even consider them legitimate asylum seekers.

"This is mass migration on an unprecedented level of which only a small segment, according to statistics and our experience on the ground, is a refugee crisis," Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs tells As It Happens host Carol Off.

"There is no legal migration at the moment."

A migrant carrying a baby is stopped by Hungarian police officers as he tries to escape on a field nearby a collection point in the village of Roszke, Hungary, Sept. 8, 2015. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Kovacs argues that because those arriving on Hungary's border have already passed through several other stable countries, like Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, they are not seeking refuge -- they're seeking economic opportunity.

"The lives of those, even of those coming from Syria or other war zones, are not in danger in Greece," he says. "Good intent on behalf of those arriving in Europe can be questioned."

Kovacs also says that, while some Western European countries are willing to accept a large number of Muslim arrivals, Hungary is not.

"European identity is basically based on Christianity, if not today on its religious elements, most definitely the cultural ones," Kovacs says. "You have to keep that in mind to be able to address intercontinental mass migration on an unprecedented level, when larger Muslim populations move into a predominantly Christian continent like Europe."

Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, Aug. 27, 2015. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

He argues that multiculturalism, as it was conceived in the 1970s and '80s, has failed.

"This a mistake, a path we'd like to avoid."

Today, the European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker called on European Union member countries like Hungary to accept tens of thousands of people from places like Syria, Libya and Eritrea. And he recalled that for centuries, Europeans have themselves been refugees -- including Hungarians fleeing the Soviet crackdown of 1956.

European leader calls on member states to take in 500,000 refugees, distributing them fairly through quotas.

Kovacs says the current crisis cannot be compared to the flight of 200,000 Hungarians at that time.

"That happened with discipline," he says.

"Those Hungarians fleeing the country were put in camps in Austria and Germany and there was a distribution system in which all countries around the world, including the U.S.A. and Canada, could decide who they would take."