BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The large numbers of people now seeking sanctuary in Europe should be seen as immigrants, not as refugees, because they are seeking a “German life” and refuse to stay in the first safe country they reach, Hungary’s prime minister said on Monday.
Viktor Orban, a right-wing populist whose robust handling of the migrant crisis has drawn both condemnation and praise, also said the European Union should consider providing financial support to countries such as Turkey which are near to the conflict zones so that migrants stay there and do not move on.
Syrians, Iraqis and others entering Greece, Macedonia, Serbia or Hungary are safe in those countries and, in line with EU rules, should have their asylum applications processed there, Orban told a gathering of Hungarian diplomats in Budapest.
“If they want to continue on from Hungary, it’s not because they are in danger, it’s because they want something else,” he said, adding that the migrants’ target was Germany and “a German life”, not physical safety.
The vast majority of migrants reaching Hungary aim to travel on to Germany and other wealthier western European countries. A Bavarian official said Germany expected about 2,500 refugees to arrive by early afternoon on Monday after some 20,000 came in over the weekend.
Left unchecked, this inflow will place an impossible financial burden on the EU, Orban said, endangering what he called Europe’s “Christian welfare states”. He has previously said the arrival of large numbers of mostly Muslim migrants posed a threat to Europe’s Christian culture and values.
“It’s absurd .... when the Germans say they will spend billions on providing for the new arrivals instead of giving the money to the countries around the crisis zone, where the (migrants) should be stopped in the first place,” he said.
“It would be better for everyone. They wouldn’t come here. It would cost less. And our approach couldn’t be called into question morally either.”
Europe’s worst migration crisis since the Balkan wars of the 1990s has led many of the continent’s leaders to call for a quota system to distribute refugees among the EU’s 28 member states - an idea that Orban opposes.
While Hungary would remain part of the EU’s passport-free ‘Schengen zone’, Orban said discussion of a quota system was premature.
“As long as Europe cannot protect its external borders it makes no sense to discuss the fate of those flowing in,” he said, adding that he did not rule out a “fair” discussion of quotas at a later stage.
He defended a planned package of laws that would allow the army to be deployed to defend Hungary’s southern border, which he added was being threatened “perhaps not by war, but by being overwhelmed”.
Orban said he hoped the measures would succeed in “hermetically sealing” the border, with people crossing at official crossing points only.
Legislation to use the army in helping to protect borders would not be possible before September 20, he added.
Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Gareth Jones