Anti-migrant mayor tells Trump: Border wall ‘saved my town’

Toroczkai believes President Donald Trump, who is choosing designs for a wall along the southern border aimed at sealing off Mexico, should be encouraged by the success. “I hope it inspires the Americans,” he said.

It certainly inspired Hungarians, who voted overwhelmingly for anti-migrant parties in elections earlier this month. Toroczkai is also in the running to take over as leader of the ultra-nationalist Jobbik movement, which won 20 percent of the vote.

For thousands of migrants who passed through Ásotthalom in 2015, the rural town provided the first taste of life in the European Union.

Anti-migrant mayor tells Trump: Border wall ‘saved my town’
Anti-migrant mayor tells Trump: Border wall ‘saved my town’

Many E.U. nations have light or nonexistent internal border checks. Crossing into Hungary from Serbia, which is not a member of the 28-member bloc, represents the last major hurdle on the way to prosperous countries such as Germany.

Until this time last year, much of the boundary was protected by a single layer of razor wire, which was easily cut. As the migrant trickle turned into a flood, Hungary closed its border, leading to violent clashes with police.

“This was not normal migration — this was like an attack,” said Toroczkai, who accused migrants of starting fires in empty homes. “People moved here for a calm life and they destroyed this calmness.”

His demands for a Trump-style border wall were at first rejected by Hungary’s government, led by nationalist Viktor Orban.

But with anti-immigration sentiment on the rise and elections looming, Orban eventually ordered the construction of the $476 million fence. He tried to make the E.U. pay for it, but Brussels refused.

Image: A map showing Hungary and Serbia
Hungary’s border barrier stretches 100 miles and is patrolled by soldiers, dogs, thermal cameras and 3,000 newly recruited border police officers.NBC News

Trump believes real border walls are “truly the first line of defense,” and Toroczkai agrees.

“It worked,” said the mayor, who enjoys a folk-hero status among Hungary’s resurgent far-right. His reputation was further boosted when he produced and starred in an action movie-style video message to migrants. “Hungary is a bad choice,” he warns in it. “Ásotthalom is the worst.”

A 40-year-old divorced father-of-three, Toroczkai styles himself as a defender not only of Ásotthalom but also of “European culture and European values.”

Asked to cite an example of these values he replied, “Listen to classical music, from Russia to Ireland, then you will know.”

Toroczkai was less enigmatic when he banned LGBT rights messages and Islamic religious practices last year in a bylaw that was later overturned by a Hungarian court.

“If we invite thousands and thousands of migrants from other countries, other cultures, other religions it will lead to a bloody conflict,” Toroczkai said.

‘We are good people’

On the other side of the fence, the grass is greener — at least, in comparison to the height of the crisis.

Of the hundreds of tents that once filled fields on the Serbian side of the Horgoš-Röszke checkpoint, only a handful remain.

Last week, the site was occupied by a solitary migrant chosen by aid groups to record any “push-backs” of illegal migrants by Hungarian police and to coordinate food and shelter.

Rohollah Mohammadi and his family fled to Europe after facing deportation from Iran to their native Afghanistan.

After a long journey through Turkey and Greece, they are stuck in Serbia. While his siblings and parents stay at an official shelter farther south, Mohammadi, 19, spends long, lonely days by the fence. By helping official aid groups, he hopes he can push his family up the waiting list for asylum in Hungary.

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