The Securitization of the European Migrant Crisis - Evidence From Bulgaria and Hungary (2015-2017)

  •  Tatiana P. Rizova    


Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria over the past fifteen years have produced the largest waves of displaced people and refugees since World War II. As European Union (EU) leaders braced for an influx of thousands of people fleeing from these conflicts, they faced pressures to revisit and modify legal rules that left countries in Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean unable to cope with a crisis of unprecedented proportions in the twenty-first century. While the logistical challenges of this humanitarian disaster threatened to undermine Southeastern and Mediterranean states’ capacity, multiple terrorist attacks across Europe magnified the security concerns of EU leaders. This paper compares how two of the European Union’s newest member states – Bulgaria and Hungary – have tackled the migrant crisis and assesses the impact of security concerns on their refugee policies. Some of the responses of these countries’ governments were similar – both governments mandated the erection or extension of physical barriers to impede migrants’ entry on their countries’ territory. While the Bulgarian government took cues from the rhetoric and actions of key EU leaders such as Angela Merkel, the Hungarian government continuously antagonized EU leaders and declined to cooperate with their proposed multi-lateral strategies of handling the migrant crisis. Decisions taken by the two governments were, to some extent, dictated by security concerns. The rhetoric of the Hungarian government, however, contained stronger nationalist overtones than that of the Bulgarian government. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his right-wing government led an anti-migrant and anti-refugee campaign that sought to exclude foreign nationals due to the patent incompatibility of their cultural values with those of Hungary’s nationals. On the other hand, the rhetoric of Bulgaria’s Prime Minister – Boiko Borisov – was more dualistic and contradictory. His policy statements to the foreign press or at EU summits reflected the general sentiment of the top EU brass, whereas statements made to the Bulgarian media focused more specifically on security concerns and were far more critical of the foreign nationals attempting to enter Bulgaria’s territory. Moreover, the security-focused rhetoric and actions of the government became more strident immediately before and after the Bulgarian presidential elections of November 2016, which led to the resignation of Borisov’s cabinet. Political parties in Bulgaria, including Borisov’s GERB party have increasingly become critical of refugees living in Bulgaria’s admission centers. Borisov’s government even extradited a group of Afghan asylum seekers due to their involvement in a riot at one of the refugee admission centers. This study is based on a content analysis of statements made by Bulgarian and Hungarian government officials and media coverage in several Bulgarian and Hungarian news publications between 2015 and 2017.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1918-7173
  • ISSN(Online): 1918-7181
  • Started: 2009
  • Frequency: quarterly

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