By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Hungary's anti-migration government says it wants to shelter a limited number of Christians facing persecution after mounting criticism that this heavily Catholic and Protestant nation is closing its borders to most refugees.
Speaking over the weekend at a conference in Budapest, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén said it is Hungary's “natural obligation” to accommodate and assist Christians from for instance the Middle East, but he warned that “the goal is not to empty the East of its Christians”.
The government set up a department to coordinate the assistance and rescue of persecuted Christians globally and provided over 1 billion forints ($3.8 million) in aid to countries “where the trouble is”, officials said. It also operates a scholarship program allowing 72 students to study in Hungary.
But Christian rights activists involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations told BosNewsLife that the rightwing government has refused to accommodate hundreds of Christians from Asia who faced death and persecution when returning home. The talks broke down, despite written evidence that Hungarian tax-payers wouldn't have to pay for their travel, accommodation or social services, BosNewsLife learned.
Christian aid group Farrukh Saif Foundation also notes that Hungary is keeping asylum seekers including children in containers near the border. "How can you put people, humans, who God has created in His image into this shell and place which is covered, and there is no freedom? And you want to use this for refugees and asylum seekers?"," said its founder Farrukh H. Saif
Similar containers are used in countries such as Eritrea to detain Christians, BosNewsLife learned. Earlier, Hungary erected razor wire fences along its southern borders backed by thousands of security forces after some 400,000 migrants fleeing war, poverty and persecution entered its territory in 2015 on their way to more welcoming and prosperous Western countries.
While these measures targeted mainly Muslim asylum seekers to keep Europe 'Christian', new evidence suggested that Hungary's government has also been reluctant to accept Christian refugees from non-European nations. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, under European Union pressure over his perceived autocratic style, defended these policies.
He told the 11th national congress of the Alliance of Christian Intellectuals in Hungary last month that “everyone, in Brussels too, must acknowledge that we will not become an immigrant country.” Orbán said it "would simply be intellectual suicide” for central Europeans to take over "western European liberalism" as Hungary would change into an “immigrant country with a mixed culture within the foreseeable future.”
That could lead to more terrorism and no border protection, the prime minister warned. "Instead of family support policies, there would be population imports designed to offset the demographic decline," Orbán added.
"This is an action plan commonly called the Soros plan”, he stressed, referring to the Hungarian-born U.S. philanthropist George Soros and his alleged plan to import millions of migrants into Europe. The government recently plastered the country with posters showing a grinning Soros with the slogan 'don't let Soros have the last laugh' in the debate on migration.
Currently, the 87-year-old Jewish Holocaust survivor decorates billboards urging voters to participate in a 'national consultation' on the 'Soros plan.' “We must not allow this to happen and must hold on until the next election; the government is ready to defend the future of Christian Hungary,” Prime Minister Orbán told visiting Christian delegates in Parliament last month.
The government's energy undersecretary András Aradszki, a Catholic, went even further telling Parliament that the "national consultation is an outstanding opportunity for us to express our opinions about Satan’s Soros Plan."
Some Jewish groups compare the anti-migration campaign, ahead of elections next year, to the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the 1930s and early 1940s when Hungary was a close ally of Nazi-Germany.
Critics also claim that Orbán and his allies confuse Christian religion and national identity with Biblical Christian compassion. The government denies the charges but says persecuted Christians and Muslims should mainly receive assistance in their home countries.
"But that's the same as saying to Jews during the Holocaust that they should remain in camps," complained Christian activist Saif who rescued Christians facing death in strict Islamic areas.
Semjén, the deputy prime minister, stressed that Islamist "perpetrators of anti-Christian mass murders" should be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, which deals with international atrocities including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Four out of five people suffering because of their faith are Christians, he noted.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó urged international cooperation to “give a clear and coordinated answer to extremism spreading in the world and forcing millions to leave their homes”.
Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog called it a “shame” that Western civilization, which is based on Christianity, “is not able to protect these people”. Christians are "the most persecuted religious community," with attacks carried out in some 80 countries, directly threatening about 200 million Christians, according to the government.
However, rights activists say the government should back up its rhetoric by increasing the number of Christian refugees and other asylum seekers allowed to enter the country. "Jesus Christ, Himself was a refugee," Saif said.
Hungary, an EU-member state of nearly 10 million people, accepted just 502 asylum seekers in 2015 and 425 in 2016, though it wasn't clear how many Christians were among them. Germany took in 890,000 asylum seekers in 2015 and 280,000 in 2016.