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Hungary to spend over USD 200 million “securing” border with Serbia

Building a 175-kilometer-long, 4-meter-tall, barbed-wire fence along its border with Serbia will enable Hungary to kill three birds with one stone.  In addition to decreasing illegal immigration from Serbia by an estimated 85 percent, it is likely to provide hundreds of public workers with steady work for several months.  Most importantly, it will enable the government to spend tens of billions of forints it does not have buying expensive monitoring equipment (cameras, drones) it does not need.

It appears that in order to justify spending HUF 60-70 billion (USD 218-255 million) sealing the border with Serbia, the Hungarian government felt it first needed to convince Hungarians (or at least Fidesz supporters who, in the eyes of the government, are the only Hungarians that count) that illegal immigrants were breaking the law, disrespecting their culture, and, most importantly, taking their non-existent jobs.  Perhaps this helps explain the otherwise inexplicable “national consultation on immigration and terrorism” and accompanying xenophobic billboard campaign at a cost to Hungarian taxpayers of HUF 1.3 billion (USD 4.8 million).

The question is why spend over USD 200 million sealing the Serbian border when Hungary’s underfunded public health-care system is on the brink of collapse?  Is it to provide work for the country’s hundreds of thousands of public workers who otherwise would be cleaning ditches or cutting weeds?  Or is this yet another opportunity to steal tens of billions of forints of Hungarian and European taxpayer money through bogus public procurements?

Daily newspaper Blikk reports today that the government of Hungary may end up spending as much as HUF 70 billion (USD 255 million) closing its 175km border with Serbia, of which the fence itself is estimated to cost HUF 17 billion (USD 62 million).   However, because fences are easily cut, scaled or tunneled under, an elaborate and costly monitoring system costing tens of billions of forints will also be required to effectively seal the border, according to security expert Péter Tarjányi.

Because the task of building the fence has been assigned to the Ministry of the Interior, which is also responsible for administering Hungary’s public works program, Blikk thinks it likely that public workers will be used to do the work.

The daily cites Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér’s announcement in 2011 that in order for the public works program to be successful, it was necessary to “create a market” for public work, and that this could be done in the fields of agriculture and state projects.  At the time there was even talk of housing public workers in temporary camps for weeks or months at a time while they built stadiums or other state projects of questionable value.

Blikk reports that some 250 public workers worked on the HUF 2.5 billion (USD 9 million) social housing project in Ócsa, and says that building a 175km fence in 10km segments could employ hundreds of public workers over 3-4 months.

At yesterday’s weekly press conference, János  Lázár, the minister responsible for running the Office of the Prime Minister, did not rule out the possibility of closing Hungary’s border with Romania.  He said that according to the government’s calculations, the number of illegal immigrants this year to date has reached 57,000 and could increase to 120,000 to 150,000 by year-end. He said experience shows that such a fence can decrease illegal immigration by some 85 percent.

While this may be true, for the vast majority of illegal immigrants bound for Austria or Germany, Hungary is merely a transit country.  It seems that in order to justify spending up to HUF 70 billion “securing” its border with Serbia, the government needed to convince Hungarians that illegal immigrants were breaking the law, disrespecting their culture and, most importantly, taking their non-existent jobs.  Hence the so-called “national consultation on immigration and terrorism” and the xenophobic billboard campaign costing taxpayers HUF 1.3 billion.



Richard Field :