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Hungary to hold referendum on EU migrant quota plan

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has announced plans to call a referendum on mandatory migrant quotas proposed by the EU as a solution to the current crisis engulfing Europe. Orban hinted he hoped Hungarians would reject the plan.

Orban said that the referendum question would be: "Do you want the European Union to be able to mandatory settle non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary, even without the approval of the Hungarian Parliament?" The PM added that those who choose not to back the EU's proposal and reject the plan would thus be supporting Hungary’s independence.

"The EU has no right to make decisions that could change the lives of people without asking them," the PM told a news conference on Wednesday, adding that such EU action "equals an abuse of power." If introduced, the quotas would redraw the ethnic, cultural and religious map not only of Hungary, but of the whole of Europe, he warned.

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A mandatory quota for the resettlement of migrants and refugees has long been rejected by the Hungarian government. By putting the issue to a national referendum, "the government is responding to public sentiment," Orban said.

Without specifying when the voting might be held, the PM said that the question had already been submitted for approval to the National Election Office.

The government-initiated referendum can be taken as a sure thing because the majority in the Hungarian parliament "surely support it," Mariann Ory, a journalist and political commentator from Budapest who was at the meeting where the statement was made, told RT.

The Hungarian governing party Fidesz has already started collecting signatures against the mandatory quota and have around 2 million so far, “so we can say that quite a lot of people in Hungary definitely do not support the quota," Ory said.

To tackle the crisis, the Hungarian government argues that the EU should secure its external borders, Ory told RT: "Unless those borders are not secured, we can't talk about any quota, be it a mandatory or a voluntary quota solution: we can't talk about how to distribute people if these people just keep on coming." 

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In September last year, in an effort to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from illegally crossing into Hungary, Orban's government decided to erect a fence on the border with Serbia and introduced tough punishments of up to three years in prison for those who abuse the border crossing or damage the barrier.

However, the four-meter-high, razor-wire fence has not stopped thousands of illegal migrants from forcing their way into the country. More than 1,200 people have been caught at the border fence in February alone – a number four times higher than in December last year.