Europe is currently embattling a dilemma of the sort which it has, on such a scale, never seen before. The current crisis has provided some European households with a new source of topics to discuss over the dinner table and cause for real worry for others. Besides having become a measurement of one's good citizenship to express 'solidarity' in the matter, it has also become almost like a social suicide to voice opposing convictions to the regurgitated mainstream views. I in the least part wish to disappoint the reader of this article, yet if he or she hopes to read another copy of a 'let us save the refugees' narrative, they shall have to look elsewhere.
I find it increasingly vital to embattle another dilemma amidst this crisis, which is the tremendous difference between the events that are actually taking place in Central Europe and the Western Balkans, and the reporting that has been going on in European mainstream media outlets on the matter. Originating from the region myself, I perhaps have a competitive advantage in reviewing the chain of events and their perception in the West. It is crucial to ask ourselves three questions; two of which so very few are encouraged to ask, and a third question which seemingly is the centre of all attention amidst this crisis. This is my reason, as you might have wondered, for not having named and made any reference so far to the nature of and the agents involved in the dilemma that the Old Continent is facing. The questions are: (a) the influx to Europe of exactly whom are we facing, (b) how exactly do these persons enter the European Union, and (c) how exactly are they treated by the authorities and how exactly do the newcomers behave while in transit in Central Europe?
We can now conclude that the current situation in Europe is neither a 'refugee crisis', nor is it a 'Syrian crisis'. This is because to qualify as a refugee, one must be fleeing from acute physical danger, according to international human rights law.
The influx of whom?
According to data released by the Hungarian National Office for Statistics (KSH) and obtained from the Hungarian Office of Immigration and Nationality (BÁH), the number of applications for asylum in 2013 was 18900, while the same data exactly a year later in 2014 was 42777. This means that on the advent of the immigration crisis of late 2014 and 2015 there already was a 126% increase in the number of asylum applications submitted to the Hungarian authorities. Let us consider data for July and August 2015, the months representing the peak of the crisis in Hungary. New asylum applications in July numbered 31287 and that in August reached 47094. Thus two months in 2015 exceeded the total asylum applications of the previous two years put together.
While the explosion in scale of the mass movement of people through this region of Europe is clear from these statistics, it does not fully answer our question of the identity of the persons in question. To get the full picture, we must analyse some more detailed data about the nationalities of the newcomers. The same set of data elucidates the spread of applicants both from so called conflict zones and from so called 'secure third countries'. Considering July 2015, the number of asylum seekers originating from war- and genocide-torn areas amounted to 14342, 87% of whom called themselves Syrian. This leaves 53% of all applicants in July to be from secure third countries - countries whose citizens are not entitled to receive asylum and refugee status in the majority of EU member states. Adding the respective data from August, we see that only 52% of all applicants were from areas of genuine danger. Of that 52%, approximately 89% said they were Syrian nationals. All in all, 45% of all applications in July and August were those of Syrians.
From these sets of data, we can now conclude that the current situation in Europe is neither a 'refugee crisis', nor is it a 'Syrian crisis'. This is because to qualify as a refugee, one must be fleeing from acute physical danger according to international human rights law. All else are called migrants whose journey can be hence related to other reasons than threat to life. In light of this, I shall hence refer to Europe's current dilemma as an international migration crisis rather than the much used 'Syrian refugee crisis' term.
How do newcomers enter the EU?
There are two main routes on which migrants travel to the European Union in general, and to Germany and Scandinavia in specific. The first route is known as the Mediterranean route; referring to the hazardous boat journeys from North Africa to Italy. The second route, viewed as a much safer way into Europe, is the so called Balkan transit route. This latter entails a short sea crossing from Turkey to Greece and then a long transcontinental way through the Balkan countries of Macedonia and Serbia and through Central European countries of Hungary and Austria.
According to BÁH, out of the 18590 asylum seekers in 2013, a mere 310 persons entered the territory of Hungary legally while a stunning 18590 entered illegally. The same data for 2014 showed that of the 42777 asylum applicants, only 856 entered the country legally and 41921 persons did so illegally. Legal entrance here denotes approaching an official international border crossing station and submitting an asylum application insitu, while illegal entrance means failure to do the former and instead crossing the so called 'green border' - uncontrolled borders situated in forests and marshland, or marked by a river. NB. these data are from the period before the construction of the wire fence along Hungary's southern outer-Schengen border with Serbia. Hence, the proportion of persons breaching international borders between Hungary and Serbia in 2014 was a shocking 98% of all asylum seekers arriving to the country.
With 15th September a new set of legislation has been implemented in Hungary, which most importantly declares the illegal crossing of the country's borders not merely a breach of law (not punishable) but more significantly a crime, which draws with it the possibility of facing a sentence of 1-5 years in prison. Note that these laws apply to illegal trespassers and not those wanting to enter the country "through the door instead of the window", quoting Hungarian PM Orbán's words, appear at official border crossings. Furthermore, the same date marked the installation of the border fence along the border with Serbia, and recently with Croatia. This fence, like many other examples of border fences in the Europe (Spain-Morocco, Bulgaria-Turkey, border fence in Calais) seal the green border with official border crossings still open to travellers. The effects of the fence are now clearly visible, with the number of illegal trespassers entering Hungary dropping to a mere 80 a day compared to the daily 8000 experienced in August.
What is more, ardent critics of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's stance, such as the Austrian Chancellor Faymann, Croation Prime Minister Milanovic and Slovenia are all considering introducing tougher measures to control borders, including Fayman's call for the protection of Europe's outer borders - a claim Orbán has been voicing since the beginning of the crisis. Croatia has announced it would also build a fence along the Serbian border within two weeks because the organised transportation of migrants by the government to the Slovenian border has become problematic because of Slovenia's refusal to allow more migrants to enter than how much they can usher out through the Austrian border. More and more deputies in the German Bundestag are calling upon Merkel to construct a fence along the 3000 km long German borders; Bavaria declaring it would take unilateral action to defend its self if Berlin continues its highly populist 'Willkommenspolitik' (welcome politics in German). Thus it seems as though the areas that were up to now the 'hinterland' of Europe are now turning against the mass movement of migrants to Europe as they experience the drain they are to the countries' resources.
Bulgarian border guards shot an Afghan citizen who tried to enter Bulgaria but the media found Hungarian police actions more 'interesting' than those of Slovenia or Bulgaria.
How exactly are they treated by the authorities and how exactly do the newcomers behave while in transit in Central Europe?
The most colossal part of Western reports on the current crisis has been the allegedly brutal treatment which the migrants experienced while in transit in Central Europe. There have been an overwhelming number of videos and photographs of dirty-faced and soaked children who allegedly were forced to sleep in terrible conditions, of poor mothers sacrificing their daily food portions for their children, and of brave refugee fathers wanting to escort their families from danger and war to safety in Europe. There are however a number of problems with this narrative. First of all, recent hints made by Boris Kálnoky, Germany's largest conservative newspaper Die Welt's reporter in Budapest, have revealed the extreme twist in the Western narratives of events in Hungary. Kálnoky stated that they as correspondents in Central Europe were told how to present the actions of the Hungarian government in their articles, and were instructed to deliberately focus recounting the misery of children and families. This was in order to gather support for Merkel's 'open doors' policy, which has seen the fall of the Chancellor's popular support by over a fifth. This angle of reporting has resulted in the omission of very crucial information regarding a border clash between migrants stuck outside the newly constructed Hungarian fence and the Hungarian police forces. It has nowhere been recounted that fourteen Hungarian servicemen were hospitalised due to severe head and other injuries resulting from migrants throwing pieces of stone and concrete through the fence from the Serbian side. The only narratives of this event were all describing the water cannons used by the police against the migrants. It has also not been recounted everywhere how migrants have been behaving at the railway station of the Western Hungarian town Bicske, where the police officers carried stacks of food and water supplies to the migrants that were awaiting trains to Austria. Video footage revealed that migrants threw the food and water onto the train tracks in their impatience while stranded. What is more, migrants in Germany caused trains from Munich to Berlin to be delayed by over 5 hours because they pulled emergency breaks several times to signal that they wished to get off the train at the location they were passing through. And if this has not been enough to burst the pink bubbles of Willkommenspolitik, migrants who have reached the Western Austria county of Vorarlberg have been complaining about the standard of food they received from the city council - the same food that local elderly homes receive on a daily basis. Migrants arriving in Finland protested and claimed 'their money' rather than humanitarian aid.
After all this, it is not only striking but also shameful and tragic to draw a parallel between the Hungarian political refugees of the 1956 Revolution with those migrants flooding Europe today. That 200,000 Hungarians fleeing Soviet repression awaited the processing of their refugee applications and then travelled to the countries which they were commissioned to settle in. Meanwhile, the Hungarian authorities have had to terminate over 100,000 asylum applications so far because the applicants had already moved on to other European countries. I personally cannot see how these people are called refugees fleeing danger when they have actually passed through a number of safe European countries but instead of seeking asylum in these safe but economically poor countries, they choose between the rich and developed Western European and Scandinavian countries. What sort of refugee picks their country of resettlement according to their own economic preferences. Well, this sort of traveller is called the economic migrant, a type of person Europe will see much more of if it does not act to protect its own labour force and stimulate its demographic situation to see increase and not decline in the European population.
Lastly, on another note, the Hungarian police and armed forces in contact with the migrant groups have displayed the most patient attitude, a behaviour that is exemplary. There has not been any instance of deliberate police aggression or retaliation, except for action taken against attacks from migrant groups. It is also important to mention that Bulgarian border guards shot an Afghan citizen who tried to enter Bulgaria. Yet media attention has not for a single moment focused on this act of aggression by the Bulgarian police. Slovenia fired teargas at groups of migrants on its borders. Yet, when Hungarian police had to use tear gas, media attention found Hungarian police actions more 'interesting' than those of Slovenia or Bulgaria.
It has during the course of 20th Century history been a very frequently recurring phenomenon that the physically untouched hinterland had a radically different experience and notion of the war that was fought out on the frontlines than those who inhabited villages and towns surrounded by trenches and lines of defences. It is enough to think of the Vietnam War, which is dubbed the first "television war" ‒ referring to the frequent media coverage from the battlefield, but which nonetheless was a conflict of a thousand faces and perceptions. While support for continued war in Indochina was above 60% among the American population even during Nixon's napalm bombing of the Cambodian jungles after 1970, almost one in two American GIs serving in Vietnam fought heavy drug addiction, depression and general apathy, while desertion rates skyrocketed.
Similarly, Croatian PM Milanovic has rejected Jean-Claude Juncker's recently devised sixteen point proposal as written by someone who "does not understand how things work and must have just woken up from a months'-long sleep." I find it essential that Western and Northern European countries ask themselves whether they are in fact in touch with the full reality of events, processes and crises that have been unfolding in the Central European region with regards to the mass transit of non-European populations through the continent, or whether they are in touch with a heavily Westernised and adapted ‒ televised ‒ view of the crisis at hand. It would perhaps lead to more clarity and justice to listen to 'Europe's GIs' who are striving to uphold the southern borders of the Schengen Zone; an agreement the European hinterland never forgets to praise and whose maintenance it never fails to urge. TMM