Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called for a massive European aid package for Syria’s neighbors to help curb the flow of migrants into the European Union.
Orban spoke Friday with Germany’s Bild newspaper, defending his reluctance to admit more migrants into the EU through Hungary, which has been overwhelmed with refugees hoping to travel farther west.
The prime minister said Syrian refugees already had a safe place to stay in the refugee camps surrounding Syria, and maintained that those coming to Europe were not in fact seeking safety but instead just a better living standard.
He said each country in the EU should contribute an additional one percent to the EU budget, to be gleaned from spending cuts elsewhere to make up a $3.4 billion aid package to give to Syria’s neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.
He also blamed refugees’ failure to follow rules on Germany’s announcement that it will accept thousands of applications for asylum, in what he says is a break from EU policy. He said that announcement caused a revolt among asylum-seekers waiting to register in Hungary.
Orban also said a quota of refugees to be allocated to each EU nation makes no sense unless Europe’s borders are closed, because otherwise it would be impossible to know how many refugees need placement. He said the stream of incoming people will continue as long as the borders are open.
In an interview with German weekly Der Spiegel, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann provided counterpoint, saying Orban is acting “irresponsibly” when he maintains that all the refugees are economic ones. He said Austria, Germany and Sweden — the countries that have been the most welcoming to the current influx of people — recognize that the migrants are war refugees and stand by their right to asylum.
On Friday at a meeting in Prague, the foreign ministers of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia refused entreaties by their counterparts from wealthier Germany and Luxembourg to accept the mandatory quotas, despite its endorsement by the United Nations.
The plan allows for the distribution of 160,000 migrants among the 28 EU member nations.
“We need to have control over how many [migrants] we are capable of accepting,” said Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek, host of the gathering.
Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier had urged a unified approach to dealing with Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II, possibly “the biggest challenge for the EU in its history,” he said.
Steinmeier also called for a “fair distribution mechanism” for dealing with the additional migrants expected to enter Europe. His country receives more asylum requests than any other European nation and anticipates 800,000 migrants to arrive this year.
Denmark declines plan
Denmark also announced Friday that it will not absorb any of 160,000 asylum seekers. “We have taken our share,” Integration Minister Inger Stojberg said.
More than 3,000 migrants arrived in Denmark this week, though most had indicated they were en route to friendlier Sweden.
Britain, too, has declined to accept a quota, saying it will accept 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years.
The dissention prompted the European Council’s president, Donald Tusk, to say Friday that he would call a summit of EU leaders this month unless their ministers could agree Monday on how the bloc should cope with the migrant surge.
Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) voiced support for the EU distribution plan but also noted that by year’s end the EU would have to relocate 200,000 refugees from the front-line countries of Greece, Italy and Hungary.
The U.N. called for the immediate establishment of large-scale reception centers in those countries.
The UNHCR also welcomed Washington’s offer to accept 10,000 more refugees and increase its humanitarian assistance to Syrians fleeing violence at home. But it said “the United States could and should do more.”
More on US plan
The United States has taken in about 1,500 refugees from Syria since its civil war broke out more than four years ago.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president approved accepting more of the refugees beginning in October.
The White House promised “robust” background checks on the new arrivals to ensure that national security is not endangered. U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper said this week that he feared Islamic State militants might infiltrate the refugees escaping conflict in the Mideast as they head to other countries.