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Hungarian Billboards Warn Migrants To Stay Away


Hungary is also trying persuasion. If you're approaching Hungary's border hoping to migrate through the country to points north, you are liable to see a billboard with a discouraging message.


You may also see fliers warning you to stay away. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Budapest.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: So far, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has launched three billboard campaigns with an anti-migrant message in as many months. But the latest one is the first that will be done outside Hungary in foreign languages. The Hungarian press, quoting ruling party sources, said the billboards would be erected in Syria and Afghanistan. How that is going to happen in the middle of the fighting wasn't explained. The government has since said it would put up posters and hand out leaflets to migrants in countries along the way to Hungary.

ZOLTAN KOVACS: Even Canada had such a campaign here in Hungary three-and-a-half years ago when a great number of Roma tried to misuse the Canadian welfare system.

NELSON: Zoltan Kovacs is a government spokesman.

Z. KOVACS: What we are trying to use is a given tool towards those people who are trying to reach the European Union that please don't even attempt because we are not going to let you in if you are not in - if your life is not in danger. So, economic migrants, illegal migrants are not welcome.

NELSON: The cost of the billboard campaign to Hungarian tax payers will be close to $3 million. That money would be better spent on helping refugees rather than stoking Xenophobia, says Amy Rodgers of MigSzol, an NGO which helps migrants in Hungary.

AMY RODGERS: All of these things are designed to make people scared of immigrants, to make people associate immigration with terrorism and to start seeing as a real threat to Hungary which did not prove to be the case.

NELSON: Other Hungarian critics defaced earlier billboards and the U.N. unveiled its own poster campaign featuring refugees who successively integrated into Hungarian society. But a more unusual response to the billboards came from Hungary's satirical Two- Tailed Dog Party. It put up hundreds of posters directed at the migrants saying, welcome to Hungary. Sorry about our prime minister. Historian Maria Kovacs teaches at Central European University in Budapest.

RODGERS: To make fun of Mr. Orban on publically displayed huge billboards was nothing very usual until now. No, this is new.

NELSON: Hungarian media reported this week that the government's latest poster and leaflet campaign will be handled by the Budapest branch of an American advertising agency. The company, J Walter Thompson, had no immediate comment. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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