Media Coverage of Europe’s Migrant Crisis Ignores the Long-Term Problems It Poses

Media Coverage of Europe’s Migrant Crisis Ignores the Long-Term Problems It Poses

Europe is facing an unprecedented surge of illegal immigration from the Middle East and Africa, a crisis of historic proportions that has dominated international media coverage. Amid all the critical banter and calls for action, this often-sensational media coverage has stirred up emotional responses and prompted politicians to focus only on short-term answers to the crisis. But what we need is a sober look at what is happening today, a consideration of its potential long-term consequences, and long-term solutions.

I know what it means to flee your country at night, to be in a camp, and then wait for a quota to be granted asylum and legally admitted to the United States, as I fled from Hungary after the 1956 Revolution. I also recently witnessed first-hand the scenes at Hungary’s border as a volunteer with the Maltese Charity Service, distributing food to migrants who had just arrived. I saw how the media focused on the children, even if the vast majority there were young men, and ignored the many volunteers who came to help.

Influenced by the media’s coverage of these scenes, many have ignored the facts of this crisis and the problems caused by the lack of a coherent EU immigration policy and the political failures of the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war. Consider for a moment the scale of what is happening.

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The number of migrants who have crossed illegally into Hungary this year has reached 200,000. Adjusting proportionately based on population, that would be the equivalent of 6.5 million illegal immigrants entering the United States in eight months. How would the U.S. respond? Would state and federal authorities allow migrants to refuse to cooperate, issue demands to be allowed to travel on to another state, and disrupt public order on highways and important transportation hubs? How would law enforcement respond if large groups of migrants were to storm the border and physically attack police with bricks and other projectiles, as they have recently in Hungary? Would we not think carefully about how our internal security and anti-terrorism measures would be compromised by allowing hundreds of thousands of migrants to enter and roam about the country virtually unchecked, as they have recently in the territory of the EU?

Wanting to be seen as compassionate, many politicians have responded in a way that ignores these details. Germany stated that it would accept all Syrian refugees, effectively sending an open invitation for mass migration into Hungary. At the same time, Hungary, whose border is an external frontier of the EU’s Schengen Area, is enforcing EU and Hungarian laws, but is demonized for protecting the border with a fence and accused of heartlessly playing “hardball” with the migrants. Since when is following the rule of law “hardball”? Incidentally, Hungary is not the only country that has built a fence to protect its border. France, Spain, Bulgaria and, of course, the U.S. have done likewise.
Hungary actually follows European treaty requirements with respect to those who have entered the country and the EU illegally. EU law requires those persons to register in the first EU country they enter and then wait until their status is adjudicated. The migrants photographed sleeping at the Budapest railroad station were in fact illegal migrants, who had either refused to register or whose status had not yet been adjudicated. Greece fails to register them, lets them pass, and the EU, ignoring the growing crisis, has failed to address the problem. In contrast, Hungary has been trying to provide for the needs of the migrants, who are victims of unscrupulous human smugglers and the political failures in the Middle East.

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Allowing migrants to enter illegally is simply not acceptable. Slowly, Germany and others are recognizing these risks and have reinstituted border checks. Establishing migrant distribution quotas before EU borders are secure, as some have urged, is meaningless when the number of potential migrants may be in the tens of millions.
Compassion for refugees with legitimate asylum claims must be part of the response, but Europe cannot accept the millions of potential migrants from many different cultures seeking a better life. Hungary took in East German and Romanian refugees in 1989 and many fleeing the Bosnian war, but those now entering Hungary have crossed four countries in which their lives were not in danger. They left seeking a higher standard of living in Germany or Sweden. Europe and the U.S. have a moral obligation to help the less fortunate in their native countries and in the refugee camps adjacent to Syria and Iraq. The camps must be livable and the civil wars must end. But where are the wealthy Arab countries in helping these migrants?

Every country has the absolute right, indeed obligation, to protect its borders and to decide on the type of society it wishes to leave behind to future generations. We should not demonize those who dare to raise the tough issues, such as cultural differences and the face of a future Europe overrun by unregulated migration from other societies. Hungary’s Prime Minister Orbán expresses what many others think but dare not say. The terrorism of political correctness suppresses discussion. Open debate and sovereignty are after all essential parts of democratic nations and Europe’s future depends on sober judgment, not emotional reaction evoked by media coverage.

Eugene F. Megyesy Jr., practiced law in Denver and is now senior adviser to the prime minister of Hungary.