BUDAPEST, Hungary — Muslims in Hungary say they are wary of the government’s anti-migrant referendum this weekend, which polls suggest has boosted xenophobic feelings.
The government, contending that there is a direct link between migrants and terrorism, is seeking a popular mandate in Sunday’s vote for its opposition to accepting any mandatory European Union quotas for resettling asylum seekers.
“I’m starting to feel that my own homeland is repudiating me,” says Timea Nagy, a Hungarian Muslim.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said Hungarians have “no problems” with the local Muslim community, but he believes any EU quotas to relocate asylum seekers, including many Muslims, would destroy Hungary’s Christian identity and culture.
Orban hopes that a rejection of EU quotas in the referendum will be mimicked by others and force Brussels to reconsider the scheme.
A poll taken in August by the Publicus Institute for the Vasarnapi Hirek newspaper found 35 percent of the 1,000 people asked said it was obligatory to help refugees, down from 64 percent in September 2015.
Some 5,600 Muslims live in Hungary, according to the 2011 census, the latest available.
On Friday, about 30 people took part in a “Muslims living among us” walking tour in a Budapest neighborhood, an effort to counter prejudice.
“In the past year, especially since the migrant crisis is causing tension in Hungarian society, this is one of our most popular walks,” said tour guide Anna Lenard. “We present Hungarian Muslim communities and try to show their human face because people living here get a lot of false information from the media.”
The tour in the city’s so-called “New Buda” neighborhood stretching to the Danube River includes stops in several shops and mosques, as well as presentations and chats by community leaders.
“We could say that this (referendum) campaign is against the migrants but in reality it is covertly against Islam, that’s how people mostly understood it,” said Tayseer Saleh, imam of the Darusallam Mosque.
“We do not support the migrants coming to Europe,” Saleh said. “We support putting an end to the problems there and I guarantee that 90 percent of the people will return to their homeland.”
Government billboards and media ads have drawn a direct link between migration and terrorism, warned Hungarians that millions more migrants may soon be headed for Europe and asserted that cases of harassment of women in Europe have risen greatly since the start of the migrant crisis.
Speaking last September at a meeting of Hungarian diplomats, Orban said the Muslims in Hungary were a “valuable asset” and wanted to avoid causing “awkward situations, even at the verbal level” for them.
“We are truly glad that there are kebab shops on our avenues. We like buying lamb from Syrian butchers at Easter,” Orban said. “We are going to honor this Muslim community in Hungary, but we don’t want their proportion to grow suddenly.”
Local Muslims said the problems they faced in light of the government’s referendum campaign were far beyond awkward.
“I consider myself a good Hungarian and I want to be one, too,” Timea Nagy said. “But if people are surrounded by this kind of propaganda and they are so impressionable, it often makes you wonder.”
Andras Nagy contributed to this report.