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'Hungarian Public Opinion Is In Shock' Regarding Migrant Crisis


Today at the main train station in Budapest in Hungary, service was cut off for hundreds of migrants trying to get to Germany. The angry crowds erupted into protest, at times chanting the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her country's expected to receive 800,000 refugees this year. This was another snapshot of the migrant crisis in Europe and the burden many EU countries are facing over how to deal with the influx. For more on this, we reached Gyorgy Schopflin by phone in Brussels. He's a member of the European Parliament from Hungary. And I started by asking him about the best way to handle the surge of migrants into Hungary. He said, shutting down rail service was a temporary fix.

GYORGY SCHOPFLIN: As I understand it, it's basically that Austria has said they're not receiving people at this time, so please don't send any more. These people don't want to stay in Hungary. They want to move on to Germany.

SIEGEL: And just to be clear, you said that the Austrians have asked the Hungarians to stop rail service. Are you talking about a confidential communication or has that been a public request made?

SCHOPFLIN: As I understand it, it's fairly public. And they haven't stopped the trains, but only people with an EU passport are allowed to board.

SIEGEL: They want to be going to Germany, but at some point, isn't the European Union obliged to have a union-wide strategy as to how many refugees are going to which countries?

SCHOPFLIN: Oh, absolutely and I think discussions are taking place around now. We've got a preliminary meeting of Parliament next week, so, yes, something is happening, but all 28 of them have a different take on this.

SIEGEL: How many refugees should Hungary take in if the Germans are taking in 800,000?

SCHOPFLIN: Well, we're a much smaller country than Germany unfortunately. I think probably we're in the business of taking a couple of thousand.

SIEGEL: When Chancellor Merkel says countries should take them in, proportional to their size, that would not be proportional if Germany's taking 800,000.

SCHOPFLIN: No, it would not be proportionate, but then again, as I say, Germany's a much richer country. And also we don't really have the experience of integrating large numbers of immigrants.

SIEGEL: Let me read to you some excerpts from some remarks given by a parliamentary leader of your party to a newspaper today. Not least in Hungary, Antal Rogan said that the very existence of Christian Europe is under threat. Would we like our grandchildren to grow up in a United European caliphate? My answer is no. Is that the concern that some Hungarians have and some Hungarian voters have?

SCHOPFLIN: The sense I have is that Hungarian public opinion is in shock. I think there is concern that - you can use Rogan's phrase of a new caliphate - that's probably an exaggeration, but that's OK. And I think there is genuine concern - and not just in Hungary - that what can we do? I mean, the West European countries have a lot of experience now of primarily Muslim immigrants who tend to sit about in separate clusters and construct, if you like, enclaves of their own, not really integrating with the majority.

SIEGEL: Mr. Schopflin, try to reconcile for American listeners these seemingly conflicting impressions. On the one hand, a crisis, countries in shock, a panic over migrants; on the other hand, it's an emergency. Let's have a summit in a few weeks to deal with it. It doesn't sound as though Europe is responding with alacrity to the problem that it faces.

SCHOPFLIN: I think there's some truth in that. The focus has been overwhelmingly on Italy and Greece. And they do have a really major problem, but some of the focus has to be on Hungary. I think the European Union Commission is slowly working towards this. In the interim, of course, Hungary has to deal with the problem of the migrants. And there is this whole problem of Schengen and the so-called Dublin agreement that the country where a refugee arrives has to be registered in that country. And in certain circumstances, may actually be sent back there. Now, this is the great Hungarian's fear, that these people go on to Germany or Sweden or wherever and those countries say, sorry, we can't take you. Go back to Hungary.

SIEGEL: Well, Gyorgy Schopflin - member of the European Parliament from Hungary and, I should add, for many years a professor in London - thank you very much for talking with us today.

SCHOPFLIN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.