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Hungary expected to reject refugee resettlement as PM accused of mobilising 'fear and hatred'

Voters are being asked to approve the EU’s plan to deal with the migrant crisis.

People queue to receive aid packages at a makeshift migrant and refugee camp situated meters away from the Serbian border with Hungary.
People queue to receive aid packages at a makeshift migrant and refugee camp situated meters away from the Serbian border with Hungary.
Image: Marko Drobnjakovic

HUNGARIANS HAVE BEGUN voting on the EU’s troubled refugee quota plan, in a referendum aimed at boosting Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s self-styled campaign to defend Europe against the “threat of mass migration”.

While there is little doubt that his ‘No’ camp will comfortably win, the poll could still end in embarrassment for Orban if it fails to reach the required 50% turnout and is deemed invalid.

To avoid this, the right-wing government has led a fierce media offensive urging the eight-million-strong electorate to spurn the EU deal, which seeks to share migrants around the 28-member bloc via mandatory quotas without the consent of national parliaments.

Polling stations opened at 0400 GMT and will close at 1700 GMT, with results expected later in the evening.

Orban warned yesterday that mass migration was a “threat… to Europe’s safe way of life” and that Hungarians had “a duty” to fight the failed “liberal methods” of the “Brussels elite”.

“We can send a message to each European… telling them that it depends on us, European citizens, to bring the EU back to reason, with common effort, or let it disintegrate,” he wrote in the Magyar Idok newspaper.

The EU proposal — spearheaded by Germany and approved by most EU countries last year — is aimed at easing pressure on Italy and Greece, the bloc’s main entry points for hundreds of thousands of people mainly fleeing war in Syria.

But implementation has been slow, as eastern and central European nations remain vehemently opposed to the plan.

Hungary has not accepted a single refugee allocated under the scheme and instead joined Slovakia in filing a legal challenge against it.

The referendum threatens to further split the quarrelling bloc, already weakened by its worst migration crisis since 1945 and Britain’s decision in June to leave the union.

“If referendums are going to be organised on every decision of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, legal security is in danger,” EU President Jean-Claude Juncker warned in late July.

Hungary Referendum Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban exits a voting cabin after voting in the referendum in Budapest. Source: Vadim Ghirda

‘Fear and hatred’

As anti-migrant parties surge in popularity across the continent, Orban has emerged as the populist standard-bearer of those opposed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open-door” policy.

Sunday’s poll will ask voters:

Do you want the EU to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?

Opposition parties and rights groups held protests ahead of the vote, accusing Orban of whipping up xenophobia despite the lack of asylum-seekers in the country.

“This referendum is an effort to mobilise fear and hatred,” economist Tamas Bauer told AFP at a rally in Budapest on Friday.

According to a poll published by the Publicus Institute on Saturday, only 46% of 1,000 participants said they would vote, down from 54% last month.

However, the government has already downplayed the consequences of low participation, with Orban insisting the turnout had “no political significance”.

“If there are more ‘No’ than ‘Yes’ votes, that means that Hungarians do not accept the rule that the EU bureaucrats want to impose on us,” he said Friday.

© – AFP 2016

Read: Overcoming opposition, EU approves plan to relocate 120,000 migrants >

Read: Auschwitz survivor makes successful dance show debut at the age of 90 >

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