Virginia Mayo / AP

Amid refugee crisis, Hungary prime minister says Muslims not welcome

Viktor Orban says history of Ottoman rule means Hungarians will not accept large-scale Muslim immigration

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday that his country did not want to accept Muslim refugees, as he defended his tough approach to border control on the frontline of Europe's migration crisis.

Orban spoke in Brussels at meetings between European Union leaders and Hungary's prime minister after images of a drowned Syrian child on a Turkish beach grabbed world attention this week and said that it was not a moral argument for opening Europe's doors.

"If we would create ... an impression that 'just come because we are ready to accept everybody,' that would be a moral failure. The moral, human thing is to make clear: 'Please don't come,'" Orban told reporters.

In a later news conference, Orban said the history of Ottoman rule meant Hungarians would not accept large-scale Muslim immigration, a point made recently by neighboring Slovakia.

"We don't want to, and I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country," Orban said. "We do not like the consequences of having a large number of Muslim communities that we see in other countries, and I do not see any reason for anyone else to force us to create ways of living together in Hungary that we do not want to see. That is a historical experience for us."

In a pugnacious performance typical of a right-wing leader who has often clashed with liberal sentiment in Brussels, Orban rejected criticism of the razor-wire fence he has thrown up along the EU's external frontier with Serbia.

Orban met European Council President Donald Tusk, who appealed for greater European solidarity and more help for refugees.

Tusk took issue with remarks Orban made in a German newspaper in which he noted that most asylum-seekers were Muslim at a time when Europe's Christian culture was weak.

"For a Christian," Tusk said, "it shouldn't matter what race, religion or nationality the person in need represents."

Scenes of desperation

Thousands of people desperate to reach Western Europe rushed into a Budapest train station Thursday after police ended a two-day blockade, setting off a wave of anger and confusion as hundreds shoved their way onto a waiting train.

But instead of heading to the Austrian border, the overloaded train stopped at Bicske, a town northwest of Budapest that holds one of the country's five camps for asylum seekers, facilities the refugees want to avoid because they don't want to pursue asylum claims in economically depressed Hungary. As the train platform filled with police came into view, those inside chanted their disapproval and their determination to reach Germany, their almost unanimous goal.

The crowd, angrily waving train tickets to Vienna and Munich, refused police orders to board buses to the asylum center, pushing their way past police and back onto the train. A day-long standoff ensued in which police and charity workers took turns handing food and water to the passengers, only to have them tossed out train windows in protest.

"We don't need food and water! Just let us go to Germany!" one man shouted. Children held up handwritten signs reading, "Let's Go Germany."

One man threw his wife and infant son onto the tracks, screaming in Arabic, "We won't move from here!" Police surrounded the prone family, pulled the husband away and handcuffed him as he wailed. His wife and diaper-clad boy, apparently uninjured despite their stumbling descent onto the tracks, were freed and allowed to rejoin other refugees.

The scene of desperation was just one of many that unfolded Thursday as tempers flared in Hungary's war of wills with refugees trying to evade asylum checks and reach Western Europe, a showdown with consequences for the entire continent.

About 100 police kept watch on the train, escorting media – including Al Jazeera reporter Andrew Simmons – from the platform, but didn't remove the refugees by force.

The head of police border control, Col. Laszlo Balazs, said 16 people voluntarily checked into the asylum center, while about 500 others refused. He said officers were using loudspeakers to inform those who would not comply of "their legal obligations."

"Nobody can avoid identity checks. Everyone must submit themselves to this measure, and the police are keeping this train in place until they do," he said.

Back at the Budapest train station, announcements in Hungarian and English – but not Arabic, the language of most of those gathered inside – declared that all services from the station to Western Europe had been canceled. A statement in English on the main departures board said no more trains to Austria or Germany would leave "due to safety reasons until further notice!"

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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