Hungary set to reject EU refugee quotas in referendum in victory for ruling anti-immigration party

Prime Minister Viktor Orban calls for country to 'force the Union to come to its senses'

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The Independent Online

Hungarians were expected to resoundingly reject EU refugee quotas in a referendum on Sunday.

The rejection of the quotas - which would see Hungary resettling a proportion of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have arrived in Italy and Greece over the past year - will be a victory for the country’s right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, in his long running battle with Brussels.

Opinion polls show support for a rejection of EU migrant quotas of more than 80 percent among those who say they will vote. But they also indicate turnout might not necessarily top the 50 percent required for the poll to be valid.

Voting began at 6am (5am UK time) and ended at 7pm (6pm UK time).

Mr Orban was one of several European leaders who locked down their countries’ borders last year in open defiance of the Schengen Agreement which requires open borders. 

Last year, it built a long razor wire fence along the entire length of its borders with Serbia and Croatia and announced plans in August to build an even stronger fence and employ 3,000 new “border hunters” to tight control.

Last year, Hungary recorded around 18,000 illegal border crossings as many travel across the country on their way to richer places in the north such as Germany. 

In a letter published in a national newspaper, Magyar Idok, on Saturday, Mr Orban urged Hungarian voters to send a message to the EU that its migration policies were flawed and posed a threat to European security. 

He wrote: "We can send the message that it is only up to us, European citizens, whether we can jointly force the Union to come to its senses or let it destroy itself".

Budapest has said immigration policy should be a matter of national sovereignty but human rights groups have accused the government of xenophobia.

On Friday, around 1,500 people demonstrated in Budapest against the referendum.

One protester, Zsuzsa Berkesi, said they demonstrated so they "would be less ashamed of ourselves on Sunday night".

In the wake of the Paris attacks in November last year, Mr Oban provoked outrage by claiming that it was an “obvious fact” that “all terrorists are basically migrants”.

The strong anti-immigrant rhetoric has gone done well with the Hungarian public and has given Mr Orban’s Fidesz party, which has been in power since 2010, a comfortable lead over the opposition.

One Budapest resident, Judit Hegyi, said the country “must preserve our Hungarian national character here in the middle of Europe and all the other European states should also preserve their national characters” as she picked up a leaflet from a Fidesz stall in the city in the run up to the vote. 

Additional reporting by Reuters