Opinion Column

Refugees, demagogues could soon be deadly mix

By Gwynne Dyer, Special to Postmedia Network

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban (C) and Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov (C-L)tour the area where a fence was erected on the Bulgaria-Turkey border near the town of Lesovo, on September 14, 2016. (NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban (C) and Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov (C-L)tour the area where a fence was erected on the Bulgaria-Turkey border near the town of Lesovo, on September 14, 2016. (NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP/Getty Images)

"Hungary is not far away from issuing orders to open fire on refugees," said one of the European Union's foreign ministers Tuesday, and called for the country to be suspended or even expelled from the EU because of its "massive violation" of the EU's fundamental values.

Hungary has built a 175-kilometre razor-wire fence along its southern border to keep migrants out. It has deployed 10,000 police and soldiers along that border, and is recruiting 3,000 "border-hunters" equipped with pepper-spray and loaded pistols to help them in their task.

And, on Oct. 2, it will hold a referendum asking Hungarians: "Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?"

The answer Prime Minister Viktor Orban wants is "No", and he is certain to get it. He is a right-wing demagogue and he understands what Hungarians think about giving asylum to Muslim refugees.

The EU foreign minister who made that incendiary remark about Hungarians shooting refugees was Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, the smallest of the EU's 28 countries, and the foreign ministers of several bigger EU countries, including Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier, immediately condemned it.

Hungary's foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, said Asselborn has "long left the ranks of politicians who could be taken seriously," and has become a "frivolous character" who is "patronizing, arrogant and frustrated." He called Asselborn a "nihilist" who works tirelessly to destroy Europe's security and culture.

Szijjarto will not be alone in his views on Friday, when 27 EU foreign ministers (the British foreign minister, Boris Johnson, was not invited) gather in Bratislava for an informal summit. The official topic is the European Union's future post-Brexit, but they also will be debating what to do about the million-plus migrants, most of them Syrian, Iraq and Afghan refugees, who arrived in the EU in the past 18 months.

It's not just Hungarians who want to keep Muslim refugees out of the EU. Right-wing nationalists in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia and Austria feel the same. They see the more relaxed attitude of the big Western European members to "multi-culturalism" as a slow-motion form of cultural suicide.

You can and should condemn this attitude to desperate and mostly harmless refugees -- even though there inevitably will be a few among them who are loyal to Islamic State -- but you can't ignore it. Global refugees are more numerous today than at any other time since 1950, but in 20 years there probably will be five or 10 times as many.

Africa's population will double in the next 30 years, just as global warming cuts deeply into the continent's food production.

The population growth rate of the greater Middle East, from Morocco to Pakistan, is lower than Africa's but higher than any other region. Many countries can't grow enough to feed their own people now, and intense heat and semi-permanent drought will make the problem far worse.

There will be tens of millions of refugees, and their destinations will be Europe, South Africa, the southern border of the United States and the northern coast of Australia.

The Hungarians may not end up shooting refugees on their southern border this time around. It's still a quite small problem.

But with time the number of refugees will grow, and politics everywhere is vulnerable to demagogues. In 30 years' time, and perhaps much sooner, there may be shooting along all these borders.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.