Country’s refugee policy lambasted ahead of referendum on EU mandate on refugees
Daniel McLaughlin in Budapest
Hungarian police patrol the transit zone at Hungary’s southern border with Serbia near Tompa, 169km southeast of Budapest. Photograph: Sandor Ujvari/EPA
Hungary is establishing a special government office to help Christians who face persecution, amid more criticism over its alleged mistreatment of mostly Muslim refugees seeking protection in Europe.
Officials say the new section of Hungary’s ministry for human resources will seek to ease the plight of Christian communities threatened by radical Islamist groups in the Middle East, while also monitoring anti-Christian discrimination in Europe.
What the office can achieve remains unclear, however, as do the facts around government claims to have quietly given sanctuary to about 1,000 Coptic Christians from Egypt in the past two years.
The creation of the office has drawn praise from Christian groups, but stands in stark contrast to the government’s attitude towards Muslims migrants, whom Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has called a “poison” that threatens the security and culture of Europe.
“We believe this is a kind of moral mission that we have,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told The Irish Times. “It also goes with our sense of the importance of traditions, including the preservation of religious minorities and preserving Europe’s identity.”
Mr Kovacs said Hungarian troops were helping train Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas fighting Islamic State, and that the new government office had €3 million “to finance a hospital in Syria as soon as circumstances make it possible”.
He insisted there was no plan to bring large numbers of Christians from the Middle East to Hungary, which is the EU member most critical of a German-led proposal to distribute refugees around the bloc.
“We believe the European Union should be paying more attention to Christian groups in danger,” Mr Kovacs said. “But also, as in the non-Christian case, the real way is to bring help to the spot rather than to bring the trouble to the European Union.
“It is about finding ways and means of trying to keep minorities in the places they belong, to provide help, follow their fate and provide security if needed . . . to keep communities in place.”
Mr Kovacs also claimed, however, that “about 1,000” Coptic Christians had been relocated from Egypt to Hungary in the past two years “even if not in a totally open manner”.
Other government officials have made similar claims, but Hungarian media, human rights groups and even leaders of Hungary’s tiny Coptic Christian community have been unable to find any trace of the new arrivals.
“This is very mysterious . . . Nobody came forward to say I met these people or saw them,” said Marta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.
“If this was a compassionate act it was very hush-hush. One-thousand Coptic Christians going by completely unnoticed by the Hungarian leader of the Coptic community – I find it very interesting.”
On Sunday, Hungarians will be asked in a referendum whether they want to allow the EU to mandate the resettlement of refugees to their country without approval of the national parliament.