Sitting on the fence

I have a slight tendency to obsess, to fixate, to let things I cannot influence worry me to a state of anxiety that then spills over into other aspects of my life. It rarely comes to much, though. But lately, with the media in Hungary seemingly devoting most of its air time and column inches to immigration issues, my stress levels are rising.

borderThe thought of Hungary building a 175  kilometre fence along its border with Serbia bothers me. It seems like such a massive step backwards. And for a while, as I gave vent to my self-righteous indignation, I ignored the issues that may have driven such a decision. While reacting emotionally is all well and good, I needed to be better informed. So I asked some questions.

Europe is basically divided between the Schengen countries and the non-Schengen countries. Once you’re in the Schengen area, you can travel freely within other Schengen countries. If you travel from a Schengen country to a non-Schengen country you will usually pass through immigration at your point of departure and at your point of entry.

Political asylum is granted to people who live in fear in their home country. Perhaps they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or political views, or are part of a persecuted minority or live in an area affected by civil war or unrest. The EU has agreed that a person can claim asylum at their first port of entry. And Hungary, sitting as it does on the Schengen border, is an attractive entry point.

Hungary would seem to be dealing largely with economic refugees, though, not political ones ‒ a subtle but significant difference. Apparently, only 8‒9% of refugees coming to Hungary are political asylum seekers and it would be a cold heart indeed who would advocate for turning away those fleeing persecution. But what of those moving in search of a better life? This is where I teeter.

Ireland has a history of economic migration. For years, we populated the world, as we searched for better lives. Hungary, too. So many young people today are moving abroad in the hope of finding jobs that will pay them enough to live and to save for the future – two things difficult to do in tandem at home. And are they being turned away?

Is there an argument to be made that those who previously conquered and colonised great swathes of Asia and Africa should be opening their arms to their former subjects? And if so, could Europe sustain the current level of migration from Africa, given the current dismal lack of any sort of cohesive structure?

Were the infrastructure in place to absorb so many others into the system, perhaps I wouldn’t be in the quandary I’m in. But the infrastructure isn’t there. Not yet. Hungary needs to get its own act together first. So what’s bothering me then?

Perhaps it’s the idiocy of it all. How much are the infamous anti-immigration billboards running to? How much did it cost to administer the recent national questionnaire on terrorism? How much will this fence cost? Orban is ‘personally heart-broken’ about every forint he has to spend on the fence. But wouldn’t that money have been better spent on building an infrastructure to cope with this flood of immigrants and working out ways that they could contribute to society from the outset? Am I being too naïve?

Or perhaps it’s the rumblings I’ve heard that neo-Nazi football heads are offering to assist in rounding up refugees at the Serbian border. Or maybe it’s that niggling suspicion being voiced that if these migrants were Christian and white, it would be a different story. That’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

First published in the Budapest Times 3 July 2015