European anti-migrant leaders gather for nationalist push

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban tops bill in for Rome meeting demanding tougher migration policies

Hungary's Prime Minister, Viktor Orban exits his car as he arrives for a meeting with his Italian counterpart on February 3, 2020 at Palazzo Chigi in Rome. / AFP / Alberto PIZZOLI
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European leaders pushing for harsher migration policies gathered in Rome on Monday following gains for right-wing nationalist parties across the 27-nation bloc.

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s hardline leader, and Matteo Salvini, the former anti-migration Italian interior minister, were among the most prominent figures attending a conference celebrating the rise of nationalism across the Western world.

Mr Orban has emerged as a key figure among European Union leaders who want to reduce migration to the bloc and have threatened to overturn the decades-old European policy of open borders.

The Hungarian premier called last year for “anti-migration politicians” to take over Europe’s institutions and secure a majority in the European parliament.

Mr Orban’s appearance at the conference came as a Hungarian government official claimed around 100,000 migrants had gathered along the country’s southern border.

Bence Tuzson told public news broadcaster M1 that border patrols in the area had doubled and were now being supported by helicopters. Last week, a Hungarian border guard fired warning shots after dozens of migrants tried to force their way through a checkpoint om the border with Serbia.

Mr Orban in 2019 said migration was “radically transforming European politics”. “The party structures, traditionally left or right, are being taken over by a different dimension: those for migration and against immigration,” he said.

As Italian interior minister, Mr Salvini abolished key protections for asylum seekers and closed off Italian ports to search and rescue ships operated by NGOs, frequently threatening their captains with heavy fines.

Also expected to address the Rome conference were Marion Maréchal, niece of French hard-right figurehead Marine Le Pen, and Hermann Tertsch, an MEP for the Spanish anti-immigration Vox party.

Support for anti-immigration politicians and parties has surged in Europe since the beginning of the refugee crisis in 2015.

A spike, late last year, in the numbers of migrants attempting to reach Europe has kept the migration issue high on the European political agenda. Nationalist parties in Germany, Spain, Hungary, Austria, Italy and Poland have all made gains at the polls in recent months.

The UN migration agency said more than 6,115 people arrived in Europe in the first month of 2020, over 2,000 fewer than in the same period last year.