Artificial Reality, Illegal Immigration and Europe’s Evolving Humanitarian Crisis

Last Saturday, UK Home Secretary Theresa May and Minister of Interior of France Bernard Cazeneuve published a letter about Europe’s new “crisis”: the illegal migrants flooding our borders. They say that the EU needs to find a joint solution to the immediate problem and that in the long-term the EU should help these people to stay in their homeland. These illegal migrants, they write, wrongfully assume that streets in the EU are paved with gold. Sound familiar?

Over the weekend, the number of people apprehended this year trying to cross Hungary’s border illegally reached 100 thousand. The person was caught, like the vast majority of others this year, on the southern border with Serbia, which is also the EU’s southern border. Border violators, when caught, claim asylum, although they would not have to cross the border illegally to do so — one can claim asylum at an official border crossing, and if their claim is sound, nothing prevents them from receiving asylum at the official border crossing. However, if they cross the border illegally, perhaps it is because they know their asylum claim would not stand, and many want to use the evaluation period to escape the authorities and disappear into the EU.

This increasing trend means that Hungarians, if nothing changes, could expect up to 300 thousand people illegally crossing the border. Putting that in proportion, it is more than 3 percent of Hungary’s population. If the 300,000 illegal migrants were to form their own city in Hungary, it would be the second biggest city in the country after the capital, Budapest.

The image below illustrates the dramatic growth in the number of asylum seekers in 2015 in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary. Three years ago, in 2012, the number of illegal border violations was at 2,157. The latest number of 100,000 puts growth even higher, at 4,636 percent, but the prospect of 300,000 would be a growth of 13,908 percent. No wonder, Hungary’s immigration system is on the verge of collapse.

Now that you know the data, let me take you to another world, where this problem doesn’t exist. It’s the artificial reality of Huffington Post contributors and Migrant Solidarity Group members Amy Rodgers and Annastilna Kallius. In their recent Huffington Post article, they struggle to understand why Hungary is building a fence on the southern border. “Given its history behind the Iron Curtain,” they write, “Hungary should know better than to erect a fence on the Serbo-Hungarian border.”

According to Frontex, the EU’s own border protection agency, the Serbian-Hungarian border (Western Balkans) is now the busiest transit route for illegal immigration into the EU. Yes, busier than the Mediterranean Sea, busier than the Bulgaria frontier. And while the photos and videos we’ve seen recently at the Channel Tunnel at Calais offer dramatic images, the fact is that there are more people trying to cross illegally into Hungary than the number attempting to enter the UK from France through the tunnel.

One of the reasons that the Western Balkans route into southern Hungary is so much busier is that it is the only one that does not have a protective border fence at any point. Not yet.

This has nothing to do with the Iron Curtain, which is a poor and insulting analogy. And contrary to what the report suggests, the Hungarian asylum system is not struggling because we don’t want it to succeed. It is struggling because it was designed to handle a couple of thousand illegal migrants per year, not hundreds of thousands. By the way, it is only in the strange parallel universe of this Huffington Post article that Hungary “bluffed to suspend its responsibilities under the Dublin Directive.” In reality, the country requested its partners in the EU to refrain from sending back, for a few days, those migrants who had illegally escaped Hungarian authorities and traveled to other EU countries. The reason for the request was simply that the system was overwhelmed.

In July, former Syrian rebel, Thaer Al-Nashef uploaded a video to Youtube at the Serb-Hungarian border in which he advises migrants to avoid getting registered in Hungary and blames Hungarian border patrols for “forcefully registering” illegal migrants. In other words, Al-Nashef is blaming Hungary for doing what it is required to do as part of the EU’s Schengen Area instead of just letting the illegals leave to the West.

The article and its parallel universe are rife with other distortions and inaccuracies, repeating the typical criticisms that the Hungarian government is “guaranteeing its firm grip on institutions like the press” but also spouting pure fiction when it claims that violent, far-right groups “are allowed to monitor the border to catch refugees.” It simply gets the numbers wrong when it reports the amounts spent on border protection and on the billboard campaign for the national consultation on the issue.

The reality is that Hungary’s police and border patrol are engaged in a heroic struggle to protect the EU’s southern border as the number of illegal immigrants flooding the EU brings a humanitarian crisis to the continent. Speaking the truth openly is not some campaign trick. It is what a responsible government should do. And the government of Hungary has said nothing different that what our British and French counterparts said in their joint letter: this crisis must be managed together and illegal migrants’ problems should be addressed where they live. The rest of the noise about Hungary on this issue is sensationalism at the expense of a country doing all it can to protect the EU’s common border.