A critical overview of Hungary’s asylum policies
Editor’s Note: As avid readers may notice, this piece is a little different from our regular news content. That’s because the Public Policy Club reached out to us about their 2022 Op-Ed competition, judged by Jessica Mutch Mckay from One News. Students were asked to write an opinion column on any public policy topic they care about. The entrants were judged on the quality of their submissions based on how compelling and well-supported their articles are. The winning entrant’s prize included publication in Craccum! Thanks to the team at PPC; this op-ed is definitely food for thought. A final note that the piece has been slightly edited to align with Craccum’s style guide and audience.
Over six million people have fled Ukraine as the conflict approaches its third month. Such heart-wrenching numbers do not even consider those who have been internally displaced within Ukraine. Such a mass exodus is presenting numbers of refugees Europe has not experienced since World War II. Civilians, taking the brunt of the conflict, seek refuge proactively with fear that the conflict will escalate further. Others, having lost infrastructure and loved ones amidst the conflict, have been forced to flee due to the destruction and ongoing violence near their homes. Either way, the majority of these civilians are heading to the neighbouring European countries of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova.
In a more positive light, the European Union (EU) has, however, carried out a welcoming response, providing immediate and rapid humanitarian assistance—a response much more accepting and tolerant than what it presented in 2015 during “Europe’s Refugee Crisis”. “Europe’s Refugee Crisis,” saw over one million Syrian refugees attempting to enter the EU by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. At that time, the immediate emergency response illuminated restrictive, nationalistic, and anti-immigrant attitudes from the EU and its governments, resulting in significant controversy from the public. The EU’s response was disorganised and non-unified and resulted in various migration policies, some aimed at keeping refugees out and others opening their borders to a limited few. Such a non-unified response resulted in a violation of Europe’s open-border and free cross-border movement policy. It also saw the development of policies that aimed to meet the specific wants and desires of each country within the EU alone, creating complications and leaving refugees in a “legal limbo”.
For example, Germany welcomed refugees with open arms, offering to resettle refugees and provide humanitarian emergency relief. On the other hand, Hungary initially refused to provide train services between Austria and Budapest, making it difficult for those seeking asylum to cross further west into Europe . Not long after, the Hungarian government completed the construction of a fence along its border with Serbia as another effort and attempt to stop the movement of people across its borders. In addition, in 2016, the Hungarian government passed a law that legalised pushbacks. Such a policy allowed the country to push asylum seekers back across borders without process, an act in direct violation of non-refoulement. Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle of International Customary Law that forbids any country receiving asylum seekers from returning these individuals to a country in which they would be in danger. Hungary’s anti-immigrant policies have been condemned over the years by the EU, the United Nations, and various Human Rights Organisations. Nevertheless, the government has continued to put these anti-immigrant policies into practice.
When applying a comparative lens to the emergency response behaviour in 2015 to the response assumed by the EU today, the difference is immense. In both circumstances, unprecedented numbers of refugees were attempting to enter Europe, whether by sea or land, trying to escape the ongoing violence and persecution within their country of origin. Entering Europe is an effort to escape the ongoing war in hopes of finding a safe haven until many hope they can soon return home. As of today, over half a million refugees from Ukraine have entered Hungary, and the country is currently under praise for its recent change in behaviour relative to that in 2015. Whether these Ukrainians are crossing through or applying for temporary protection status within Hungary, the difference in response from that in 2015 to that in the present day raises tremendous concern. The acceptance of Ukrainian refugees today compared to the efforts of the Hungarian government to prevent Syrian refugees from entering into or through its borders in 2015 suggests deep-rooted levels of intolerance towards specific national, ethnic, religious, or cultural groups. In other words, the immense difference in humanitarian response and asylum acceptance expressed by Hungary highlights a “selectiveness” towards specific groups of refugees and migrants. Various factors might help explain such “selectiveness” and require further, in-depth research. Such factors, however, include but are not limited to perceived levels of education and literacy rates, historical and contemporary country relations, ideological influences, and the potential for repatriation by some groups and not others. Whatever it may be, those fleeing violence and conflict are not at fault and should not be the ones taking the brunt of the conflict.
This article has aimed to provide a brief and thought-provoking overview encouraging readers to question their own degree of acceptance and tolerance towards refugees and migrants. How come a fence was built in September of 2015 but not in March of 2022 when in both circumstances, it was just a search for safety and protection by innocent civilians? Wouldn’t we all do the same if our home was crumbled to the ground and all we had left was ourselves?
Author bio: Sandra Kolb is a postgraduate student at the University undertaking a Master of Arts, majoring in politics and international relations.