Spend a few days on the migration trail that now runs like a river through Europe, and you’re likely to get the same questions from many of the asylum seekers riding its currents toward Germany: Are things really that bad, they ask, in Hungary? Do police really beat up the migrants there? Are the camps really as crowded as cattle yards? Is the border fence really that high?
Most of these fears are overblown. But the right-wing government in Hungary, which likes to cast itself as a vanguard defending Europe’s Christian values from the influx of Muslim foreigners, has indeed done a lot to earn its reputation among the migrants. The fence it built along its 100-mile border with Serbia, where most of them cross into the E.U., was not exactly a friendly welcome for people fleeing persecution and war. Nor have the authorities improved their image by trying to herd the migrants into detention camps.
Such deterrents against migration have also proved totally ineffective. Since late August, when Hungary completed its razor-wire fence, thousands of migrants have continued coming across it into the E.U. every day. And in early September, the Hungarian authorities gave in to the migrants’ demands and allowed them to pass through the country on their way to Germany and other parts of Western Europe. But when they look back, many of the asylum seekers taking part in this year’s mass migration will not have a kind word to say about Hungary’s government. And it will be hard to blame them.