Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán denounced Middle Eastern refugees as “Muslim invaders” Monday, the nationalist firebrand ramping up his xenophobic rhetoric ahead of April’s elections.
“We don't see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders,” he told German newspaper Bild.
Defending his government’s refusal to accept any refugees under the European Union’s quota plan, he said he didn’t view the displaced from war-torn countries such as Syria as legitimate refugees, but “economic migrants in search of a better life.”
“For example, to arrive from Syria in Hungary, you have to cross four countries, all of which are not as rich as Germany, but stable. So they are not running for their lives there already.”
Orbán said that large-scale immigration from Muslim societies does not work in Europe, and that the E.U.’s immigration policies were jeopardizing Hungary’s “sovereignty and cultural identity.”
“We believe that a large number of Muslims inevitably leads to parallel societies, because Christian and Muslim society will never unite,” Orbán said, adding that his government’s rejection of the E.U.’s migrant quotas simply reflected the will of the Hungarian people.
When asked whether it was acceptable that Germany had taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees while Hungary refused them, Orbán said: “The difference is, you wanted the migrants, and we didn't.”
The European Union established the quotas as part of a scheme adopted at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015. The plan was intended to “share the burden” of the refugees, fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, by redistributing them from Greece and Italy, the principal entry points into the E.U., to other member states.
Hungary and Poland, whose populist, conservative governments have routinely butted heads with the European Union, are the only countries within the bloc to have taken in no refugees under the system (Hungary is legally obliged to take in 1,294, and Poland 6,182.)
In response, the European Commission announced in December it was suing the two countries, along with the Czech Republic, which has taken in just 12 of its quota of nearly 2,700 refugees.
However, nearly all E.U. countries have failed to meet their quota of refugees, with less than a third of the 98,255 allocated placements across the bloc fulfilled. Orbán said the focus on his government when others hadn’t lived up to their commitments was evidence of a “double standard.”
Orbán’s Fidesz party is expected to comfortably triumph at the polls later this year. But the veteran politician is campaigning on a strongly anti-migrant platform in a bid to appeal to his base and ward off the growing challenge from the even more right-wing Jobbik party, which is polling in second place.