Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Saturday that Europe’s existence is under threat from the huge influx of migrants to the region, but that granting Brussels more power isn’t the way to solve the bloc’s problems.
Escalating political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa has led to a surge of migrants to the European Union this year. In the first half of 2015, 137,000 migrants reached Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain—an 83% increase compared with the same period last year, according to the United Nations.
“For us, Europe is at stake today; Europeans’ way of life; European values; the survival or demise of European nations, or rather, their transformation beyond recognition,” Mr. Orban said in a speech in Baile Tusnad, which is part of neighboring Romania and has a large number of ethnic Hungarians.
Hungary has become a major transit country for migrants this year with some 71,200 entering the country in the first six months, almost double the amount for the whole of 2014, Hungarian police data showed. After crossing the Balkans, migrants, mostly from Syria and Afghanistan, enter Hungary to seek registration for EU asylum before heading to the bloc’s more developed western and northern countries.
“The question is not what sort of a Europe we Hungarians would like to live in but whether what we call Europe today will continue to exist. We would like Europe to continue to belong to Europeans,” Mr. Orban added.
Hungary’s government supports a solution that lets each EU member state deal with its border protection the way it sees fit, an asylum system that provides shelter for “real” asylum seekers but is tough on illegal immigrants, and provides aid to the countries which their people are fleeing, a government spokesman has said.
Mr. Orban criticized certain unnamed factions in the EU and Brussels, accusing them of wanting to destroy the current form of the union and replace it with a “united states of Europe,” while weakening national sovereignty and eliminating national identity—something that Hungary strongly rejects, he added.
“The left has always looked upon nations, national identities with suspicion. They reckon that an escalation of immigration could terminally weaken, even eliminate the [EU’s] structure of nation states, and thus bring about the left’s unfulfilled historic goal,” Mr. Orban said.
Unlike other EU member countries, Hungary rejects giving a home to “masses of people coming from a different civilization,” Mr. Orban said. There is a clear connection between the rise of terrorism, higher unemployment, increasing crime rates with the rise in illegal immigration, he added.
Mr. Orban’s remarks drew criticism from opposition parties in Hungary.
Leftist party Egyutt called them “truly terrible,” saying the premier fails to represent European values as “he would favor a disintegrating European Union while Hungary’s national interests would require a stronger and more unified and more cohesive union than today’s.”
Liberal party MLP said his comments linking people fleeing wars with terrorism and crime “is nothing else but extremist and hate-mongering statements that every European democrat should reject.”
In an effort to deter migrants, Hungary has started the construction of a 4-meter (13-foot) high fence on its 175- kilometer (110-mile) border with non-EU member Serbia, where most of the migrants en route to Austria and Germany enter Hungary.
Hungary’s plan to build a fence to stop migrants is “ill-advised,” human rights organization Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks said last month. “Focus should be on ensuring access to asylum, not impeding it,” Mr. Muiznieks added.
Hungary will complete the fence by the end of August, Mr. Orban said.
Write to Margit Feher at email@example.com
Corrections & Amplifications: Nils Muiznieks is the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled his surname in one instance as Muoznieks.
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