Kosovar refugees wait in Keleti (Eastern) railway station in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2015.

© 2015 Reuters

As Europe grapples with how best to respond to the Mediterranean crisis, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban is instead stoking the flames of intolerance toward migrants and asylum seekers.

Rather than look at how Hungary might help in common EU efforts to save lives in the Mediterranean or tackle the country’s weak asylum system, Orban has announced plans for a “national consultation” on immigration and terrorism, calling common EU migration and asylum policies “stupid” and “paralyzing.” The consultation is linked to planned amendments to the asylum and immigration laws that the government announced in February, which among other things would allow authorities to immediately detain and quickly return all irregular migrants, including asylum seekers, a move that could violate EU law.

As part of the consultation, Hungarians are being asked to complete a questionnaire that contains leading questions suggesting that everyone crossing into Hungary is an economic migrant, a terrorist – or both. They are asked whether they agree with statements like “economic migrants jeopardise the jobs and livelihoods of Hungarians” and if “mismanagement of the immigration question by Brussels may have something to do with increased terrorism.” In a letter accompanying the questionnaire, Orban describes immigration as a threat that needs to be stopped and dismisses asylum seekers as economic migrants who come to abuse the welfare system.

It’s not the first time the Hungarian premier has expressed intolerant views about migration. Reacting to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, Orban argued that “economic migration is a bad thing for Europe … it only brings trouble and danger” and that the EU should restrict access to people of “different cultural characteristics.”  

The consultation comes at a time of increased asylum applications in Hungary: double in 2014 compared to 2013, putting it in second place behind Sweden for the most asylum applicants per capita among EU countries. Half came from Kosovo, followed by Afghans and Syrians. At 9 percent, Hungary has the lowest rate of recognition in first decisions on asylum claims.

Orban’s consultation will do little to improve Hungary’s response to migration and asylum or public concerns about the issue. His government’s efforts would be far better spent  living up to the values the European Union is founded on, by ensuring respect for the rights of migrants and asylum seekers.