— Petra Laszlo, the Hungarian camerawoman who was fired this week after she was filmed kicking and tripping migrants, including a father carrying a child, has apologized. She said she was defending herself.
The footage of Ms. Laszlo blithely sticking out her foot to trip a man carrying his young daughter as they ran from the police spread rapidly on social media. It led to global condemnation and transformed Ms. Laszlo, whose apology was published late Thursday, into a potent symbol of the xenophobic, even violent, response to the migrant crisis in parts of Europe.
The foreign ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary
and Slovakia met on Friday in Prague with the foreign ministers of Germany
, which holds the European Union’s rotating six-month presidency.
The talks are intended to overcome divisions in Europe over how to address the growing migration crisis, which has prompted a call by the European Commission, the 28-nation bloc’s executive arm, for 160,000 migrants to be spread across the bloc.
The harsh response to migrants in some countries in Eastern and Central Europe
has spurred debate about why many in former Communist countries, which themselves spent four decades craving liberty, are in some cases unsympathetic, and even downright hostile, to those fleeing tyranny.
Ms. Laszlo said she had been afraid when migrants broke through a police cordon at a makeshift relocation camp in Roszke, Hungary
, a few hundred yards from the Serbian border, and came charging toward her.
“I was scared as the crowd rushed toward me, and then something snapped in me,” Ms. Laszlo wrote in a letter to the conservative daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet.
Ms. Laszlo, who is under police investigation, said she did not deserve the recriminations that have followed.
“I’m not a heartless, racist, children-kicking camerawoman,” she wrote. “I do not deserve the political witch hunts against me, nor the smears or often the death threats. I’m just a woman, and now an unemployed mother of small children, who made a bad decision in a situation of panic. I am truly sorry.”
Ms. Laszlo was working for an Internet television channel associated with Hungary’s far-right party Jobbik, which has railed against immigration. Frustrated at the conditions in the camp, hundreds of migrants — among them Afghans, Iraqis and Syrians — breached security lines on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, made his plea for the European Union to take in migrants, imploring Europeans not to forget their ancestors who fled famine and hardship in search of a better life.
But his call was met with deep resistance in countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, which fear that a large influx of migrants will undermine their quality of life.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary reiterated his criticism of migrants on Friday, and he warned that his country would soon take an even harder line.
“They have seized railway stations, refused to give fingerprints, failed to cooperate and are unwilling to go to places where they would get food, water, accommodation and medical care,” Mr. Orban said after a meeting with Manfred Weber, chairman of the conservative European People’s Party in the European Parliament. “They have rebelled against Hungarian legal order.”
Tougher laws on immigration will go into effect on Tuesday, Mr. Orban said, and migrants who cross the border illegally will be arrested.
At the meeting in Prague, resistance to distributing migrants according to a quota system remained strong, as some countries reiterated that immigration policy was a matter of national sovereignty that should not be dictated by Brussels
. “Every country has to have the sovereign right to decide who it will or will not accept,” said Lubomir Zaoralek, the Czech foreign minister.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, asked his counterparts in Prague on Friday to show solidarity in helping migrants, even as he recognized that Europe’s ability to absorb them was not limitless. For the European Union, he said, the current influx, he said, “is the biggest challenge in its history.”
“We can, as Europe, say that we will shut all borders, and do not let anyone else in,” he continued. But in doing so, “we would betray our values.”
If everybody is allowed in, however, “we would lose the acceptance among our peoples” for sheltering those in need, he said.
The United Nations gave qualified support on Friday to the European Commission’s proposal to relocate 160,000 migrants, warning that the plan could succeed only if accompanied quickly by the creation of large reception centers in Greece, Hungary and Italy. The three countries have become crucial transit points for many migrants.
The European Commission’s plan “would go a long way” toward addressing the current crisis, William Spindle, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency, told reporters in Geneva, but he added that it was still insufficient.
“Our estimates indicate even higher needs,” Mr. Spindle said, “but the focus must now be on ensuring all member states take part in this initiative, and that it is swiftly implemented.”
The agency is calling on members of the European Union to relocate 200,000 migrants by the end of 2016, and it will submit a proposal to that effect to European leaders who will meet in Brussels on Monday.
Separately, the agency said on Friday that it had sent trucks to Hungary and Greece
with hundreds of prefabricated housing units that will be used to provide temporary shelter.
Hungary has been wary of accepting help for migrants, some of whom have been held in prisonlike wire pens, but the refugee agency said that the Hungarian authorities had accepted an offer of at least 300 housing units; each is designed to hold one family.
An additional 800 housing units are expected to be delivered to the Greek island of Lesbos
, where a huge influx of migrants is severely testing the authorities’ ability to respond, and 300 to the island of Kos
, where tens of thousands of migrants, around 70 percent of them from Syria
, have landed in recent weeks.
The lack of empathy to migrants in parts of Eastern and Central Europe can be explained in part by the fact that countries in the region had relatively limited immigration during the Communist era, helping to create a fear of outsiders that has transcended the revolutions of 1989.
There is also a feeling that the revolutions have not lived up to their promises, and that countries risk undermining their own economies if they open the gates to migrants.
Elsewhere on Friday, the Austrian railway said there would also be no regional traffic between Austria and Hungary
this weekend, after Austria stopped rail service across the border with Hungary under the pressure of migrants streaming in.
That prompted several groups of migrants who had arrived from Hungary to start marching toward Vienna
along various routes, according to Helmut Marban, a spokesman for the police in the eastern Austrian province of Burgenland
The authorities were also sending buses for some of the crowds massed in and around the village of Nickelsdorf
, just inside the Austrian border with Hungary, Mr. Marban said. The bulk of the migrants were to be taken to Vienna.
The police at one point closed the main highway in the direction of Vienna because a group of migrants was marching along the road, he said. It was reopened just after noon.
The situation continued to deteriorate in Macedonia, where the authorities are scrambling to find ways to cope with an immense increase in the number of migrants traveling through the country.
More than 11,000 migrants entered the country in a 24-hour period that ended Friday, according to the United Nations refugee agency, and the number was expected to remain similarly high over the next few days.
Despite the challenges facing the country, a proposal on Thursday by Nikola Poposki, the minister of foreign affairs, to follow Hungary’s example of build a fence along its border was metwith harsh criticism from domestic civil organizations and political parties.
More buses have been brought in to take migrants from the border with Greece
, in the south, to Serbia, in the north, within a few hours after they have arrive.
But tension remains high, as Macedonian border guards used batons on Thursday in an attempt to control the huge number of migrants rushing to get away from the muddy roads, heavy rainfall and the immense piles of garbage in and around a registration center.