Another summer has passed, and still there seems to be no lasting solution to one of the great humanitarian conundrums of our time: how to resettle the thousands of migrants who continue to risk dangerous passage across the Mediterranean in search of sanctuary from violence in the Middle East and Africa. The number of arrivals in Greece has steadily declined since 2015, after measures that all but closed the route from Turkey. But the problem will remain so long as conflict and poverty drive people to take huge risks in the hope of reaching Europe.
It is indisputably a difficult problem, but it has not been made easier by the inhospitable attitudes of some of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe — Hungary in particular — which have stubbornly blocked entry to refugees. This is a shame, given that back in 1989, Hungary led the way in opening its borders to let the people of Communist-ruled Eastern Europe move freely between East and West. Effectively throwing its lot in with the West, Hungary declared then that it was guided “by generally accepted international principles of human rights and humanitarian consideration.”
No longer, it seems. When the European Union decided in the summer of 2015 to help Italy and Greece cope with a huge wave of migration by resettling 120,000 people in other European countries, Hungary and Slovakia took the decision to the Court of Justice of the European Union. On Wednesday, the court threw out their case, which seemed only to stiffen Hungary’s opposition. With unconscious incongruity, the country’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, angrily declared that “politics has raped European law and values,” vowing that no one would be relocated to Hungary against its wishes.
The Court of Justice decision will not greatly improve the lot of migrants, and not just because of Hungary’s callousness. The program for migrants from Greece and Italy has resettled barely a quarter of the people it was supposed to help, and Eastern European countries were allotted a tiny fraction to begin with. And the European Union does not have the tools to effectively punish recalcitrant nations.
Still, it is…