Budapest, Hungary – This week, Hungary‘s government decided to extend by another six months the national state of emergency declared nearly three years ago, at the height of the migrant crisis, despite an obvious lack of threat.
According to EURACTIV, the decree, signed by Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, doesn’t give any reason for this decision and simply claims that the state of emergency aims “to ensure Hungary’s security and defend the country’s borders”.
But the number of asylum-seekers trying to cross the border has plummeted following a series of strict border laws passed by Hungary’s nationalist government.
According to local rights group the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, border police have caught 3.000 people during the first half of the year, compared to 400.000 people passing through the country in 2015 before fences were erected along its southern border, and down from more than 40.000 in the eighteen months prior.
Regardless of M. Orbán’s anti-refugee policies, the overall number of migrants arriving in Europe by sea has significantly dropped in the last few years. During the first half of 2018, less than 40.000 migrants made their way to European shores, compared to over 1 million in 2015, 363.000 in 2016 and 172.000 last year.
Whereas Greece and Italy have, for a long time, been the major ports of entry for migrants arriving from North Africa and the Middle East, a growing number of asylum-seekers are now opting for the Western route, through Spain – making transit through Central Europe, Hungary included, less probable.
The national state of emergency was declared in early 2016 by the Hungarian government, entailing strengthened border checks by local authorities and an increased presence of police and military personnel along its borders. As soon as it came into effect, it was vigorously criticized by civil society organisations and aide groups. Due to this latest extension, the national state of emergency will run until March 2019.
Ever since his re-election last April, Viktor Orbán has stepped up his anti-migrant rhetoric and intensified his campaign against illegal immigration. Last June, Hungary passed a law – commonly known as “Stop-Soros” – criminalizing actions to “facilitate” and provide support to undocumented migrants in the country. Migration will, once again, be high on the agenda of this month’s EU summit in Salzburg, Austria.