Posts Tagged ‘NGOs’

Italy’s Salvini wants ‘guarantees’ before rescued migrants land

July 11, 2018

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Wednesday called for “guarantees” before allowing an Italian coastguard ship with more than 60 migrants on board to dock.

© AFP/File | Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini accuses the NGO ships of aiding human traffickers to bring migrants to Europe

Some of the 67 migrants on the “Diciotti” (Eighteen) vessel are believed to have revolted on a previous boat over fears they could be returned to Libya.

The sailors on that ship had locked themselves in the control room and called for help at the Rome-based rescue centre, according to Italian media reports.

Italian Coast Guard’s Diciotti

“For the moment, no port” for Diciotti, Salvini told journalists, adding that any “perpetrators of threats or aggression” would find themselves in prison.

The coastguard vessel could nevertheless dock at the Sicilian port of Trapani. The boat was expected to arrive on Wednesday evening but its landing has now been shifted to Thursday morning, according to media reports.

Once in Trapani, Salvini warned, “the violent pirates will have to get off the ship in handcuffs”.

Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister and leader of the far-right League party, has banned NGO rescue boats which pick up migrants in the Mediterranean from docking in Italy.

He accuses the NGO ships of aiding human traffickers to bring migrants to Europe.

“I will not allow any kind of landing until I have assurances for the Italian people that delinquants, who are not refugees, who have hijacked a ship with violence, spend some time in prison, and are taken back to their homes as soon as possible,” he said.

Salvini will meet his Austrian and German counterparts in Innsbruck, Austria, on the sidelines of a meeting of EU interior ministers scheduled for Thursday.

Having blocked the NGO ships, he intends to ask them “not to send ships currently on an international mission in the Mediterranean to Italian ports”.

The case of the Diciotti has also highlighted a split within the government coalition, which includes the League and Luigi Di Maio’s Five Star Movement whose left fringe is opposed to the closing of Italian ports.

Di Maio, also a deputy prime minister, said Tuesday if the vessel “intervened in a situation… we must follow up and let it land.”


Italy Wants To Bar Entry To All Migrants Ships

July 8, 2018

Italy wants to prevent ships operating for “international missions” from bringing migrants rescued off Libya to Italian ports, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Sunday.

“On Thursday, I will put on the European table at Innsbruck a demand to close Italian ports to ships of international missions,” Salvini said on his Twitter account, referring to a meeting with his EU counterparts in the Austrian town next week.

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Interior Minister Matteo Salvini

“Unfortunately, Italy’s governments over the past five years signed accords allowing all boats to bring their migrants in Italy,” he said.

Italy’s new coalition government has set a goal of zero arrivals, and Salvini, who heads the far-right League party, has already banned boats chartered by charities to enter Italian ports.

The French rescue ship Aquarius and the German boat Lifeline were forced to divert to Spain and Malta respectively last month.

The Innsbruck meeting will be the first of EU justice and interior ministers under the new Austrian presidency of the EU.

Salvini did not name any of the several missions currently patrolling the Mediterranean, but typical among them is the Sophia, EU’s anti-trafficking operation set up in 2015 to fight human trafficking.

It is under Italian command with headquarters in Rome.

Another is the Mediterranean maritime border patrol mission Triton, launched in 2014 by Frontex to fight human trafficking. It uses NATO ships in some of its operations.

Overnight Saturday, 106 migrants arrived in the eastern Sicilian port of Messina after they were rescued Thursday off of Libya by the Irish naval vessel Samuel Beckett.

For the time being, Italy must still accept migrants rescued by its own coast guard or by cargo ships asked to intervene by the Italian coast guard.

Since the start of the year, 16,687 migrants have arrived in Italy including some 11,000 from Libya, or 80 percent fewer than last year over the same period, according to Italian interior ministry figures out Thursday.


Italy to close ports to NGO migrant ships ‘all summer’

June 29, 2018

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Italy’s hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini announced Friday that Italian ports would be closed “all summer” to NGO ships which rescue migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe.

“The NGOs will only see Italy on a postcard,” quipped Salvini, who is also the new deputy prime minister and head of the far-right League party.

“The ports will be closed all summer,” he said on Italian radio.

He added that the ban would concern not only access to ports but also “the furnishing of fuel to the NGOs.”

“As the Italian military tells me as well as the Libyans, the NGOs help traffickers, consciously or not,” said Salvini.

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FILE photo

But he stressed that Italy with other states “would continue to save all those who need to be saved.”

Salvini’s comments come on the day that a European Union summit reached a deal on migration after Italy had threatened to scupper it if its demands for help were not met.

“Finally Europe has been forced to accept the argument of Italy’s proposal,” Salvini commented, noting that past Italian governments had been ignored by Brussels.

“Our numerous demands have been accepted. Italy is coming out of its isolation and playing a new role.”


Nearly 1,000 migrants rescued off Libya coast

June 25, 2018

Libya’s coastguard has rescued nearly 1,000 migrants who were on boats in distress in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe, the navy said on Monday.

Three separate operations took place on Sunday with the coastguard bringing ashore in Libya a total of 948 migrants, navy spokesman Ayoub Kacem said.

The migrants were on inflatable dinghies which were facing difficulties in the Mediterranean off the coast of Garabulli east of the capital Tripoli, navy officer Rami Ghommeidh said.

A first group of 97 migrants were rescued, while a second operation brought 361 migrants — including 88 women and 44 children — ashore and late in the evening a final group of 490 migrants were rescued, said Kacem.

© AFP | Migrants arrive at a naval base in Tripoli after being rescued in the Mediterranean on June 24, 2018

In all a total of 2,000 migrants trying to make the perilous journey to Europe, often on unseaworthy boats, were either intercepted or assisted by the Libyan navy since Wednesday.

Monday’s announcement by the navy came as Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was en route to Libya for talks on the migrant crisis.

Salvini, who has vowed a hardline stance on migrants, posted a selfie on Twitter showing him on board a military plane heading for Libya and wrote: “Mission Libya, we’ve left!”.

He is the first member of Italy’s new populist government to visit the North African country, a former Italian colony.

On Sunday Salvini ordered foreign charities to stop rescuing migrants off Libya even as reports emerged of that a group of nearly 1,000 were on boats in distress in the Mediterranean.

“Let the Libyan authorities do their work of rescue, recovery and return (of migrants) to their country, as they have been doing for some time, without the ships of the voracious NGOs disturbing them or causing trouble,” he said.

Later on Sunday the Italian interior minister thanked Libyan authorities for rescuing migrants trapped at sea.

“I would like to express my heartfelt thanks, as a minister and as a father, to the authorities and the Libyan coastguard,” he said in a tweet.

“Today they saved and brought 820 immigrants back to Libya, making the ‘work’ of the traffickers in vain and avoiding wrongful interventions by NGO ships,” he added.

Libya is a key departure point for thousands of migrants hoping to reach Europe, although hundreds drown each year attempting the crossing.


Italy summons French ambassador in migrant boat row — Italy won’t accept “hypocritical lessons” from its EU partners

June 13, 2018

The Italian government has summoned the French ambassador in Rome after France accused Italy of cynicism and irresponsibility for closing its ports to an NGO-run rescue ship with hundreds of migrants on board.

© AFP file photo | Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s new prime minister, says his country won’t accept “hypocritical lessons” from its EU partners.

A statement from the Italian foreign ministry said the ambassador had been summoned Wednesday morning “following the statements given in Paris yesterday about the Aquarius“, as the rescue ship is known.

Some 629 migrants, including 11 children and seven pregnant women, have been afloat in the central Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta refused to let them dock.

The boat has now embarked on a four-day journey to Spain, escorted by two Italian navy vessels, after the Spanish government offered to take in the migrants who were picked up off the Libyan coast over the weekend.

On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron denounced Rome’s decision to block the Aquarius, saying that under international law Italy should have taken the migrants in.

Macron’s office said France doesn’t want the Italian move to “start a precedent” under which some European countries breach international laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.

“There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government’s behaviour with regard to this dramatic humanitarian situation,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux quoted Macron as telling his cabinet.

Gabriel Attal, a spokesman for Macron’s party, went further, telling Public Senat TV: “The Italian position makes me vomit.”


Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte responded angrily.

“I cannot accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their backs when it comes to immigration,” Conte said in a statement.

“No one should dare brand Italy or its government as inhumane or xenophobic,” added his transport minister, Danilo Toninelli.

Read more: Mission Aquarius, 10 days rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean

Italy has taken in more than 640,000 mainly African migrants over the past five years. Other EU states have largely ignored pleas by Rome to take in some of the newcomers and share the cost of their care, heightening anti-European and anti-migrant sentiment in Italy.

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s new interior minister and head of the far-right League, has said his decision not to accept the migrant boat is aimed at forcing other European states to help bear the strain.

Salvini’s League scored its best-ever result in March national elections, partly on pledges to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants and halt the flow of newcomers, and has formed a coalition with the anti-system Five-Star Movement.

The new Italian government has received backing from Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is a friend of Salvini and is known for his fiercely anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“It was so depressing to hear for years that it is impossible to protect maritime borders,” Orban told reporters in Budapest. “Willpower has returned to Italy.”

Safety before politics

Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which is operating the Aquarius alongside Franco-German NGO SOS Méditerrannée, urged Rome to drop plans for the lengthy trip to Spain for its migrant passengers.

“This plan would mean already exhausted rescued people would endure four more days travel at sea,” it said on Twitter. “MSF calls for people’s safety to come before politics.”


It will take the Aquarius about 10 days to make the trip to Spain and back, leaving the Dutch-flagged Sea Watch 3 alone off the coast of Libya  a staging ground for people smugglers  looking out for migrant boats in distress.

Even as Italy dispatched the Aquarius, an Italian coast guard vessel with 937 migrants aboard was heading north from the Libyan coast and was expected to dock in Sicily on Wednesday.



‘Pack your bags’: Italy’s new interior minister talks tough on migrants

June 3, 2018

Italy’s new hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini will be in Sicily Sunday to push the anti-immigration platform that propelled him to power at one of the country’s main landing points for refugees.

The head of the far-right League is on the road seeking to rally support for his party’s candidates in municipal elections later this month, as part of a broader effort to boost the traditionally secessionist party’s profile in the country’s poorer south.

© Andreas Solaro, AFP | Italy’s Interior Minister and deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini will head to Sicily on Sunday to push anti-immigration policies.

But immigration is Salvini’s primary bugbear and the newly minted deputy prime minister in Italy’s populist coalition government has added a stop in migration hotspot Pozzallo.

The port town in Sicily’s south is on the front line: one of the main places where military and humanitarian boats bring refugees fleeing war, persecution and famine across North Africa and the Middle East.

A controversial agreement between Italy’s former centre left government and authorities and militias in Libya has triggered a fall in overall arrivals of some 75 percent since the summer of 2017. But since the start of this year, Italian authorities have registered more than 13,500 arrivals.

The latest came late Friday, just hours after Salvini took his oath of office, with some 158 people, including nine children, landing in Pozzallo after being rescued by a humanitarian boat in an operation coordinated by the Italian coast guard.

Salvini had said after being sworn in that he would ask his ministry’s experts “how to reduce the number of arriving migrants and increase the number of expulsions”.

“The good times for illegals is over — get ready to pack your bags,” he said Saturday at a rally in Italy’s north.

“Countries need to start doing their job and no more smugglers should be docking in Italian ports,” he said in a swipe at the NGOs organising rescues at sea, which he has regularly accused of complicity with people traffickers.

Salvini’s fellow deputy prime minister, leader of the anti-establishment Five Star movement Luigi Di Maio, has also called rescue NGOs “taxis on the sea” although his rhetoric on immigration is more measured that that of the League.

Migrant centres

To speed up deportations — of which there were just 6,500 in 2017 — Salvini will have to increase the number of detention centres and sign agreements with origin countries, many of which are not eager to re-receive their citizens.

In a bid to find funds, Salvini is eying the billions of euros set aside every year to deal with the demands of the asylum seekers.

In 2017, the former government announced a budget of some 4.2 billion euros for migrants, of which 18 percent is for rescues at sea, 13 percent for health care, and 65 percent for migrant reception centres, which host some 170,000 people.

The centres in particular attract Salvini’s ire.

The vast majority of existing centres are run by cooperatives or NGOs who were promised 25-35 euros per day for each person they provide with lodging, clothes and other services including legal aid or psychological support.

Salvini will be in Luxembourg Tuesday for a meeting of EU interior ministers with the agenda set to be dominated by discussion of the EU’s controversial Dublin rule, whereby would-be refugees must file for asylum in the first bloc member-state they enter.

The accord heavily penalises Italy, which has seen more than 700,000 migrants arrive since 2013.

In early years the vast majority would continue their journeys to northern Europe, but the introduction of EU-backed processing centres to ensure migrants are identified at their first European entry point and tighter border controls installed by France, Switzerland and Austria are now creating roadblocks along this well-worn route.


Police evacuate ‘Millénnaire’ migrant camp in Paris

May 30, 2018

Paris city authorities moved in early Wednesday to start clearing out a makeshift migrant camp holding up to 1,500 people in the French capital that had become a focal point in the country’s immigration debate.

© Christophe Archambault, AFP | A migrant camp at Porte de la Villette in Paris on April 20, 2018.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24 

Officials began clearing the so-called Millénnaire tent camp on the city’s edge alongside a canal used by joggers and cyclists. It is the largest of several around Paris. Two migrants drowned this month in canals along the encampments.

City authorities said the migrants, mainly from Africa, will be taken to gymnasiums in the Paris region.

The camps are at the heart of a political debate between French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo over how to handle migrants.

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Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo (R) and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

Police have cleared out some 28,000 migrants from Paris camps in the past three years, but the arrivals continue.

Deadly violence in camps

Paris officials say there will be a second phase soon, to remove around 800 migrants along Canal Saint-Martin and up to 400 in Porte de la Chapelle. It’s the city’s solution to an untenable situation.

Social workers such as Louis Barla of Médecins du Monde say hygiene, violent incidents and smuggling are serious concerns in migrant camps. “For the first time we have had deaths. We have two confirmed [cases].  We have seen serious wounds and emergencies have been reported. So for us, the situation has degenerated.”

At Canal Saint-Denis, refugees are mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, some of whom have made perilous trips across the Mediterranean or across the Alps. It’s a different profile at the Canal Saint-Martin camp, which holds mostly Afghans who have been refused asylum elsewhere in Europe.

Paris officials and the French government have bickered over the situation. A few days ago, Interior Minister Collomb urged Paris to make sure the camps don’t come back. But Paris city hall said the state should be putting in place a plan to integrate the migrants after the evacuation.

Those bussed out will be taken to shelters in and around Paris, where they’ll stay briefly to have their administrative situation examined. The interior ministry has stressed that this will mean some being expelled from France. For the rest though, NGOs fear some will quickly return to the streets.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Soros Pulls Out of Hungary: George Soros’ Open Society Foundation to move from Hungary to Germany

May 15, 2018

The foundation backed by the Hungarian-born US billionaire is set to move its staff to the German capital of Berlin. The move came after Hungary said it would tighten a law against foreign-funded NGOs.

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The Open Society Foundations (OSF), backed by billionaire George Soros, will shut its office in Budapest and relocate to Berlin amid a political and legal crackdown against the organization, the OSF said on Tuesday.

The move follows a decision by the Hungarian government to tighten a bill dubbed “Stop Soros” that would restrict the work of Hungarian non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding.

Read more:  George Soros’ Open Society Foundations may move Budapest office to Berlin

What we know so far:

  • OSF President Patrick Gaspard said: “The government of Hungary has denigrated and misrepresented our work and repressed civil society for the sake of political gain, using tactics unprecedented in the history of the European Union.”
  • “It has become impossible to protect the security of our operations and our staff in Hungary from arbitrary government interference,” Gaspard said.
  • OSF said it would still support the work of civil society groups in Hungary after it had left. But it would “pursue all available legal avenues to defend the fundamental rights that are threatened by the [Stop Soros] legislation.”
  • On Monday, Antal Rogan, the minister for Orban’s cabinet office, said the government would propose a “tighter” Stop Soros bill without providing any details. He cited Orban’s landslide reelection in April as giving the government a mandate for a stronger law.

Read more: Hungary’s Viktor Orban targets critics with ‘Soros mercenaries’ blacklist

Activists of Egyutt (Together) opposition party removes a government billboard displaying George Soros in monochrome (Reuters/B. Szabo)

What would the Stop Soros law do? As it stands, the proposed law would allow the interior ministry to ban an NGO that deals with immigration if it posed a “national security risk.” It would also introduce a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to NGOs that support migration.

Who is George Soros? Soros is a US billionaire and philanthropist who was born to a Jewish family in Hungary in 1930. He emigrated to the United States in 1956 and later began a successful career as an investor.

What is the OSF? The foundation supports and funds democracy and civil society initiatives in more than 100 countries worldwide. Soros is the founder and chair and has donated more than $32 billion (€27 billion) to the organization.

Read more: Hungary’s Orban threatens pro-refugee NGOs, slams Muslim immigration

amp/aw (Reuters, AFP)

Italy confirms seizure of German NGO migrant rescue ship

April 24, 2018

Italy has more illegal immigrants than perhaps any other nation. The government has decided not to allow “do gooder” NGOs and other groups to pick up African migrants near Libya, make a little money and dump them on Italian shores where social services are already strained to the limit….

© AFP | The Iuventa rescue ship belonging to German NGO Jugend Rettet was impounded on August 2 on the island of Lampedusa on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration

ROME (AFP) – Italy’s highest court of appeal on Tuesday rejected a request by the German NGO Jugend Rettet to release its migrant rescue boat, impounded eight months ago on suspicion of facilitating illegal immigration.The Italian Court of Cassation did not say why it had turned down the NGO’s request for the release of the Iuventa, a 33-metre (110-foot) motorboat seized off the island of Lampedusa on August 2.

At the time, the state police force had said that circumstantial evidence had come to light in a probe dating back to October 2016 which suggested the boat was being used for “activities facilitating illegal immigration”.

Two security officers employed on another rescue boat presented images that they alleged showed Jugend Rettet members conversing with suspected smugglers. They had also allegedly been seen sending back a wooden boat to Libya that was then used to transport more migrants.

But Jugend Rettet denies the allegations, saying the officers had misinterpreted particularly complicated rescue operations carried out on two days in June 2017 when many boats were in distress.

A detailed study by the Forensic Oceanography collective of all available images and radio exchanges in the area over those two days also cast doubt on the allegations.

At a news conference in Berlin, Jugend Rettet spokesman, Philipp Kuelker, said the Iuventa case “sets a precedent.”

The court was making it possible to “criminalise rescue at sea and showing solidarity with other human beings on the run. But as long as people continue to die at sea, we will continue our fight,” Kuelker said.

By contrast, an Italian judge last week ordered the release of another migrant rescue ship, belonging to the Spanish aid group Proactiva Open Arms.

That boat had been seized in mid-March after NGO workers refused to hand over migrants saved during a rescue mission off the Libyan coast to the Libyan coastguard, instead delivering them to the Italian island of Sicily.

The judge argued that Libya “was not yet in a position to take in rescued migrants while ensuring their fundamental rights were respected” and considered that the NGO had acted “out of necessity”.

In recent days, more than 1,500 migrants were rescued off Libya and at least 11 people have died after boats capsized.

Soros foundation attacks ‘stifling’ Orban law as Hungary exit looms

April 20, 2018

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FILE PHOTO: A man rides his moped past a government billboard displaying George Soros in monochrome next to a message urging Hungarians to take part in a national consultation about what it calls a plan by the Hungarian-born financier to settle a million migrants in Europe per year, in Szolnok, Hungary, October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File PhotoREUTERS


BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The foundation of Budapest-born financier George Soros accused Hungary’s right-wing leadership on Friday of trying to stifle non-government groups, but said it would decide whether to leave the country only after parliament passes a “Stop Soros” law.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose draft law has provoked legal action by the European Union, made clear he would be glad to see the back of the foundation after saying it promotes mass immigration against the will of the Hungarian people.

Critics of the nationalist premier, who scored a landslide election victory this month, said a departure of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) would mark a milestone in a slide towards authoritarian rule as he cracks down on independent centres of thought and activism.

OSF spokesman Csaba Csontos said the organisation was weighing its options. “The government has committed to passing the ‘Stop Soros’ law … It will be a symbolic step which serves to stifle non-government groups,” he told Reuters.

Asked about media reports that the OSF would move to Berlin, he said this idea had arisen and planning was underway, but he declined to confirm whether an exit from Hungary was definite.

Csontos acknowledged that the draft law, which would affect a number of non-government organisations (NGOs) as well as his own, “will be passed for sure… let’s talk about this then.”

However, the OSF said it remained committed to its work in Hungary, regardless of where it is based.

Orban, a champion of “illiberal democracy” who won a third term on April 8, responded with sarcasm when asked about the prospect of an OSF departure.

“You might understand if I don’t cry my eyes out,” he told state radio MR1, adding that the main issue he and U.S.-based Soros differed on, migration, would remain at the top of the European agenda.

The European Commission has taken Hungary to the European Court of Justice over the NGO draft law, accusing the government of violating the right to freedom of association.

Orban has increased his control over the media and put allies in control of formerly independent institutions, while his stand on refusing to accept large numbers of migrants in Hungary has also put him in conflict with the EU.

Orban said a summit of EU leaders in June should not make broad changes to the way the bloc handles immigration, adding that decisions should be made after elections to the European Parliament next year to ensure voters get a say in the matter.

“Governments must operate of the people, by the people, for the people,” he said. “Therefore to create a framework in the migration issue one year before the elections is unfair, undemocratic. I urge Europe’s leaders to exercise restraint.”


Soros has promoted liberalism since before the 1989 fall of communism, funding education, scholarship and political movements. His past support included for the now ruling Fidesz party which under Orban has abandoned its liberal origins.

Today OSF funds independent journalism and supports NGOs combating corruption and discrimination, spending $3.6 million in Hungary in 2016. Recipients included the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which provides legal support to asylum seekers.

Orban and Soros have clashed over the 2015 European migration crisis. Orban says Soros is out to undermine Europe’s cultural identity while the billionaire has accused him of running a mafia state.

The NGO legislation is expected to be one of the first laws to be passed by the new parliament. It allows the interior minister to ban NGOs that support migration and pose a national security risk. The government says the bill, which would also impose a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to NGOs that back migration in Hungary, is meant to deter illegal immigration.

“This fits into the series of steps that allows no sector to operate without the government’s stamp of approval,” said Tamas Boros at the Policy Solutions think tank.


The Hungarian Helsinki Committee is also concerned. “We are worried because the current draft presents an existential threat to us,” said Marta Pardavi, who co-chairs the group.

Asked about a vote in the European Parliament on Thursday to support NGOs through a new European Values Instrument, Orban said he expected the conflict with liberal civil groups to continue regardless of any OSF move.

“There are always those who want to hurt the community one represents, in this case Hungarians, and, say, want to turn Hungary into an immigrant country.”

Referring to the OSF, he said: “If they think a strong Budapest presence helps them they will stay. If they prefer to leave and fight from the outside, then they will go. But never think they will give up.”

(Additional reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by David Stamp)