March 6, 2018 / 4:25 PM / 9 months ago

U.N. human rights chief calls Hungarian PM Orban a racist

GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. human rights chief accused Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday of being a racist, bully and xenophobe after the anti-immigrant, nationalist leader said he did not want his country to be “multi-coloured”.

A government billboard is seen ahead of April 8 parliamentary election in Budapest, Hungary March 6, 2018. The billboard reads: 'The U.N. wants us to accept migrants on a continuous basis. HUNGARY DECIDES, NOT THE U.N.' REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

In an op-ed piece distributed by his office, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein stood by his criticism of Orban for saying last month that “we do not want to be multi-coloured by being mixed ... with others.

“...The experience of slow migration which we see in Western Europe if we go to a city like one of your cities, frankly, I see nothing attractive in that ... We do not want to be a multi-coloured country,” Orban told a gathering of Hungarian mayors on Feb. 8, according to his website.

Zeid described Orbán’s speech as “a clear-cut statement of racism. It is an insult to every African, Asian, Middle Eastern or Latin American woman, man and child.

“It is time to stand up to the bullies of Mr Orbán’s ilk,” Zeid wrote. “So yes, I did call the increasingly authoritarian – though democratically elected – Viktor Orbán a racist and xenophobe.”

There was no immediate response from Orban, whose government will contest an election on April 8 and has made attacks on the United Nations’ open-door refugee policy part of its campaign.

Hungary, along with three other central and eastern European Union states, has rejected any participation in a mandatory EU scheme to share the burden of resettling migrants proposed by the European Commission.

In 2015, Hungary also fortified its southern border to stem an influx of migrants fleeing wars, persecution and poverty in the Middle East and Asia, though almost all were seeking asylum in more affluent western member states of the EU.

Last week Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó used a speech at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva to accuse Zeid of being unworthy of his position and demand his resignation, while defending Hungary’s tough line against foreign migrants.

“Migration is dangerous, migration can be bad, very easily, and it is not unstoppable. It is stoppable and we have to stop it,” Szijjártó told the Council on Feb. 26.

Orban’s Fidesz party is leading in pre-election polls but the opposition has recently begun to amalgamate, presenting the the government with a growing, if not yet existential, challenge.

The Orban government has launched a nationwide billboard campaign with the message: “The U.N. wants us to accept migrants on a continuous basis. HUNGARY DECIDES, NOT THE U.N.!”

Similar billboards have been used to vilify U.S. financier George Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew, by accusing him of wanting to “transplant” millions of African and Middle Eastern migrants to Hungary, something Soros denies.

Zeid said Orban was delusional, citing a claim made in his Feb. 18 State of the Union address that the Council of Europe had hatched a secret plan “to breed a Soros-like human race”.

Soros has described Orban as a dangerous autocrat who has courted the anti-Semitic far right in pursuit of votes, while Orban accuses the financier of interference in Hungarian politics through its support of opposition groups.

Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and Marton Dunai in Budapest; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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