“Hungarian media in general contributes to the preservation of ignorance, and the perseverance of stubborn prejudices, as well as to the fact that the society stands helpless when confronted with genuine challenges of migration.” – Helsinki Committee
Hungarian police responsible for border guard duties stopped several scheduled trains bound for Munich over the course of Monday and Tuesday collecting almost 400 mostly Kosovar migrants aiming to reach Germany via Austria. The first train was searched after arriving in the northwestern city of Győr. Győr train station was locked down tight for most of Monday afternoon. 250 Kosovars were herded into the waiting rooms where they were held for hours. Local newspaper Kisalföld, which offered live coverage of the event, asked Hungarian State Railways (MÁV) about the circumstances of the detention, and whether the migrants had valid train tickets or not. MÁV answered that this is an immigration and a police procedure and for this reason did not wish to comment.
Orbán’s “action plan”
According to official data published on official Hungarian law enforcement website police.hu, 1391 people were arrested in Hungary for illegally crossing the borders in the past 24 hours alone.
During the time the migrants spent in the waiting room, they refused any form of cooperation, did not speak to the Hungarian policemen, and most of them did not even accept the food and hot tea served by the authorities. The consul of Kosovo was scheduled to arrive for a consultation in late afternoon and most of the people were waiting for his assistance. After a short consultation with the Kosovo diplomat, all detained were handed over to the local branch of the Hungarian Immigration and Citizenship Office (BÁH), where they can choose between being extradited to their home country or applying for asylum in Hungary. The local newspaper reported that children made up approximately half those detained.
Following Monday’s police raid, a further 183 Kosovars were arrested by the police at Győr station, with 50 other people already having been taken away by the police at the northern town of Tatabánya. Train-sweeps are a profoundly new tool in the armory of Hungary’s “anti-immigrant” action plan, complementing in-depth country controls of trucks and vehicles in search for human traffickers on highways.
The actions received considerable domestic media attention. They follow recent statements by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that Hungary does not welcome “economic migrants.” Even though all of the migrants, who came over the border illegally, were aiming to reach Western Europe, in the context of these words, recent police actions are not coincidental. After Orbán’s anti-immigrant statement, pro-government and state media publications started agitating against granting asylum to those migrants who leave their country for economic reasons.
This general situation seems to suit the government’s narrative of the “fight against economic immigration to Hungary”. Károly Kontrát, parliamentary under-secretary of the Ministry of Interior, already condemned arrested Kosovars on state radio as “economic migrants who do not flee from a war” and therefore could receive no assistance from Hungary. Kontrát cited the Geneva convention and EU regulations and said that the arrests were completely in line with these, adding that migrants “mean a huge problem” for the government as border surveillance and necessary equipment is quite expensive.
“But this is necessary and we want to do more,” the state secretary concluded.
Being an upcoming transit country on the road to Western Europe and the UK, Hungary’s asylum system is struggling to live up to its human rights obligations in handling asylum requests. During 2013, 18,995 such requests were filed with BÁH compared to 2700 in 2012. In 2014, this number swelled to 42,700. Most of these applications are rejected during routine procedure.
The Dublin II regulations, effective in the EU as of 2013, oblige countries in which illegal migrants first set foot to handle their asylum requests. Most of the migrants entering Hungary without papers hope to make it to Austria or Germany before being arrested in the hope of facing better circumstances as asylum seekers. Transit countries such as Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary stepped up immigration law enforcement in response, often despite being unable to handle the scores of asylum seekers they face afterwards. Conditions in Hungarian transit camps and detention facilities often fail to meet EU standards. In addition, Hungarian authorities often detain asylum seekers, transferring them from open camps to guarded facilities without providing interpretation services or satisfactory reasoning for such actions.
Propaganda blitz and general ignorance
A recent publication by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee calls attention to the fact that the question of illegal border crossing is often misinterpreted and mishandled in the Hungarian media. The general reputation of migrants in Hungary is generally unfavorable. Newspapers and television reports often confuse the categories of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants legally permitted to reside in Hungary.
The study entitled “Panic in the Darkness – Migrants in the Hungarian Media 2014” released by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee examines media reports about migration appearing in the first three months of last year. The study established that migration as a topic continues to be heavily under-represented in Hungarian media. If it appears, however, it appears mostly through criminal news and is presented as such by the press contacts and communication departments of Hungarian law enforcement institutions. According to the study a genuine problem with Hungarian media is that they tend to be copycat news sources, who will present the news exactly in the form they have been given by Hungary’s state news agency (MTI) or by the police. This goes against the media’s obligation of critically assessing government sources.
The report claims that despite growing coverage of migration related topics in the media, migrants or asylum seekers themselves receive almost no direct coverage. Helsinki notes that during the examined period there was a period where migrants were a hot topic in Hungary. However, only one non-Hungarian citizen living in Hungary was featured: Bob Cohen, an expat American violinist.
Furthermore, while illegal migrants, open camps and detention centers as well as Hungarian xenophobia received considerable media attention, the topic of migrants legally residing in Hungary has not been addressed.
In conclusion, the report notes that Hungarian media in general “contributes to the preservation of ignorance, and the perseverance of stubborn prejudices, as well as to the fact that the society stands helpless when confronted with genuine challenges of migration.”