EXACTLY a year after the migrant crisis gripped his hometown, the Mayor of Mórahalom is in good spirits – Hungary is about to go to the polls – and he predicts the results will send a strong message to the heart of Brussels.
By Zoie O’Brien | 2 October 2016
EXPRESS — Zoltán Nógrádi has been mayor of the small town in Hungary’s Csongrád County for 22 years.
He is the leader of a town on the edge, not just a 30km border with non-EU Serbia, but the edge of the Schengen zone, the last border of the EU bloc.
The town’s geographical position as the entrance to Europe makes it a gateway for tourism, a point on many travelers’ journeys – but for the last two years – it has also made it the centre of a crisis which has stunned the rest of Europe.
Sitting in his office in the centre of a sleepy town, Mr Nógrádi admits he never imagined anything quite like the migrant crisis exploding on his doorstep.
As war and terror ravaged parts of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Africa, a mass migration to Europe began – later dubbed the ‘migrant crisis’.
And Mórahalom, as the first place along the Balkan route in Europe, was about to become the front line.
The sheer number of people crossing the border from non-EU Serbia in summer 2015 overwhelmed the town, and quickly exhausted resources.
For four months THOUSANDS crossed everyday.
For Mr Nogradi, one of the worst moments came, when without warning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced to Syrian asylum seekers they would be welcomed in her homeland.
Months later, Mr Nógrádi recalls the utter fear with which the message was received.
He said: “In the middle of June Ms Merkel said there is no maximum number of migrants planned to the immigrants who can come to their country.
“We knew after she told it our lives would be totally desperate.
The streets were filled with migrants trying to make it to the UK, France and Germany – farms were trampled and residents were petrified.
At first, Mr Nógrádi was hopeful the European Commission would swoop in and provide support – but it soon became clear – the little town was on its own.
He said: “Daily four or five thousand migrants were going across the town.
“This is a town of seven thousand people and this movement of people was 24 hours per day.
“They did not only use the roads, they came through gardens, buildings, houses, everything and it made tensions.
“The total desperation of these citizens was caused by those tensions. The second thing that caused tensions was Brussels. They did nothing. They did not even realise how big the problem is.
“The only message they heard from Brussels’s from Commissioner Juncker in the summer that they are going for holiday. So they postponed the situation until the autumn when they will have a conference about migration.”
Mayor Nógrádi, also a member of the county’s assembly, described the situation as “chaotic”.
His town of 7,000 inhabitants had turned into what he described as a “war-zone”. […]