Rome–With borders across central Europe, and especially Hungary, closing to refugees as fast as Venus fly traps, commentators outside Europe wonder why the resistance to welcoming the newcomers.
Some of it has to do with the disorder of the influx. When Germany’s Angela Merkel welcomed Syrians to her country, she didn’t expect a mass march across the Balkans; her initial invitation was in response to horror scenes on the Mediterranean Sea. The flow she encouraged is following routes commonly used by Afghan migrants through Turkey and if anything, harder to control.
Those in Europe who want to welcome the newcomers reject the traditional practice of gathering refugees in safety near their home country, processing them there and then transporting them to asylum. Instead, a first-come first- resettled urgency took hold among asylum seekers. Thus the flood.
Merkel attempted to get the EU to accept mandatory dispersal of refugees among all 28 member countries. The EU, in part due to Eastern European intransigence, could reach no accord.
Now, even German is having second thoughts, and the closing of frontiers is spreading across central Europe. Hungary is putting up barbed wire and rounding up and arresting refugees that try to enter from Serbia.
These logistical issues aside, what we see in Central and Eastern Europe is a reflection of tribalism born of an ugly history.
Hungary has led the way, with its right wing prime minister Viktor Orban, and rexemplifies this history well. Hungary expelled German civilians en masse after World War II, effectively ethnically cleansing its country. So did Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland and the USSR. It may be understandable, given the guilt by association with the Nazis, but it was an assault on defenseless civilians nonetheless.
Moreover, anti-Semitism was both a social and political feature of Hungary and facilitated persecution of Jews during the Nazi occupation. That was also true in the rest of central Europe and also the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. It is hard to ignore this history as citizens of these EU countries categorically reject any absorption of refugees at all.
Whether better management can overcome the hostility in parts of Europe towards Middle East refugees is an open question. It is not even clear how many countries in western Europe are willing to face the need for a coordinated effort at tackling the refugee crisis. Such an effort must include partnership with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, the states that have hosted by far the majority of Syrian refugees.
At a minimum, rich countries could at least better fund the UN to handle refugees. Curiously, the US, which it must be has taken no lead in resolving this issue, is nonetheless, on the Syrian issue, the biggest donor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Der Spiegel tries to explain Hungary.
From Slate, Austria’s second thoughts.
Newsweek says it’s a shame.