Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban raised eyebrows when he said refugees and migrants flooding through the country are a potential threat to Europe’s Christian values. Most of them are Muslim and fleeing war and poverty in Asia and the Middle East. The comments ruffled Hungary’s Muslim minority.
At least 5,000 refugees and migrants cross from Hungary to Austria every day, many seeking asylum from war and persecution back home.
“Most of them are very tired. So, you can see that they are tired. But, also many are happy to be here in Austria, to have crossed the border to Austria,” said Gerald Pangl, a spokesman for the Burgenland Police Department, in Austria.
Hungary has been less welcoming, determined to hold back the tide by erecting barriers along Serbia and Croatia to protect the European Union’s borders.
Europe’s Christian values are at stake, said Hungary’s prime minister, a sentiment that broadly plays well at home, but not with everyone.
“I’m a native Hungarian. And, for me, it’s not a good thing to hear such comments. And, I hope that the politicians don’t mean it seriously. Because, this can undermine the structure or the peace in the society,” said Sultan Sulok, president of the Organization of Muslims in Hungary.
Playing up fears of Islam and migrants may give a boost of political support, but it also gives Hungary an image of intolerance. Lucaci Jeno, who lives in Budapest, called on Hungary’s leaders to be less outspoken in their handling of the situation.
“This situation should be handled in a more calm, more quiet way as we can see how Romania and Croatia deals with it,” said Jeno.
Despite two centuries under the Muslim Ottoman Empire, there are fewer than 50,000 Muslims in mainly Christian Hungary.
But it is prosperity, not intolerance, that drives Muslim refugees to settle elsewhere in Europe.
Despite recent rhetoric, Hungary’s Muslim leadership says they are well-treated and integrated in this society.
(Photo of Orban: EC Audiovisual Service)