BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Refugees should not risk their children’s lives trying to reach Europe, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday as he defended his tough approach to border control on the frontline of Europe’s migration crisis.
Orban, who also insisted Hungary did not want to accept Muslim refugees, was asked on a visit to Brussels about an image of a drowned Syrian child on a Turkish beach which has grabbed world attention this week and said that it was not a moral argument for opening Europe’s doors.
“If we would create ... an impression that ‘just come because we are ready to accept everybody’, that would be a moral failure. The moral, human thing is to make clear: Please don’t come,” Orban told reporters.
“Turkey is a safe country. Stay there. It’s risky to come. It’s better for the family, for the kids, for yourself to stay.”
In a later news conference, he said the history of Ottoman rule meant Hungarians would not accept large-scale Muslim immigration, a point made recently by neighboring Slovakia.
“We don’t want to, and I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country,” Orban said. “We do not like the consequences of having a large number of Muslim communities that we see in other countries and I do not see any reason for anyone else to force us to create ways of living together in Hungary that we do not want to see. That is a historical experience for us.”
In a pugnacious performance typical of a right-wing leader who has often clashed with liberal sentiment in Brussels, Orban rejected criticism of the razor-wire fence he has thrown up along the European Union’s external frontier with Serbia.
He said he was ready to do the same on the border with Croatia, an EU member but outside the Schengen open-border area, if migrants started to try and cross into Hungary from there.
“We Hungarians are full of fear, people in Europe are full of fear because they see that the European leaders ... are not able to control the situation,” Orban said after meeting European Parliament President Martin Schulz, as hundreds of migrants pushed onto trains in Budapest hoping to head west.
Orban said his government was determined to apply EU rules on preventing people from crossing the bloc’s external border except at controlled checkpoints, and to register and identify all those who arrived to claim asylum. Hungarians feared a failure on their part to control migrants would cause their EU neighbors to reimpose their own border checks on Hungary.
“Hungary did everything to fulfil regulations,” Orban said. “Don’t criticize Hungary for doing what is compulsory.”
On Hungary’s handling of thousands of people trying to reach Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel has said all Syrians will be taken in, he said: “The problem is not a European problem. The problem is a German problem.
“Nobody would like to stay in Hungary ... So if the German chancellor insists that nobody can leave Hungary without registration towards Germany, we will register them.
“What is going on is a shame. It’s chaotic, it’s not European,” he added. “It’s not a way to come through the green border, going to the railway station, shouting the name of Germany and Chancellor Merkel and forcing the Hungarian police to let them go out of the country without registration.”
Orban renewed his criticism of national quotas for taking in asylum-seekers that has been proposed by the EU executive. Asked whether suggestions that a new distribution system that would remove large numbers from Hungary might convince him, he said he had not had such an offer, but that he might consider it.
Orban also met European Council President Donald Tusk, who appealed for greater European solidarity and more help for refugees.
Tusk took issue with remarks Orban made in a German newspaper in which he noted that most asylum-seekers were Muslim at a time when Europe’s Christian culture was weak.
“For a Christian,” Tusk said, “it shouldn’t matter what race, religion or nationality the person in need represents.”
Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Mark Trevelyan/Ruth Pitchford