By Samantha Gauvain / Cronkite Borderlands Project
Published July 11, 2016
BUDAPEST — Hungary’s government, which already has built a razor-wire fence to keep refugees out, is proposing a package of new laws that would cut public aid to further discourage migrants from settling in the country.
The legislative package pending before the Hungarian Parliament targets refugees and asylum seekers who entered the country after April 1, 2016, a response to the huge influx of Muslim refugees who began migrating to Europe last year.
If the legislation passes, the government will end “integration contracts” that provide money to refugees and asylum seekers, end work programs for those in refugee camps, cut from 60 to 30 days the time refugees can stay in government-supported camps and limit free health care to six months from the current one year.
The legislation would also require refugees granted permission to stay in Hungary to be reviewed for continued residency every three years. Additionally, it would permit the detention of refugees returned to Hungary by other European Union member states.
For refugees and asylum seekers in camps, integration contracts have already been terminated, meaning they receive no money from the Hungarian government, according to the Migszol Foundation, a non-governmental organization that aids refugees.
“The new law will surely affect the refugees in a negative way … at least in the short and middle term. Many refugees will have to leave Hungary due to not getting enough support to start their lives,” said Zoltan Somogyvan of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a legal aid group for refugees.
He said the new laws would create friction between Hungary and other European Union countries who are taking in refugees.
“So the new law is again a huge sign that the Hungarian government does not care about solidarity between the (European Union) member states, because by not providing enough to refugees, they are encouraging secondary migration, which will lead to many refugees seeking to start a new life in another member state, putting the burden of having to integrate refugees on these other member states.”
Proponents of the bill have pointed to acts of violence by refugees in Europe within the past year, an overburdened economy and a lack of equal benefits for native Hungarians as their reasoning for the proposals.
Only people who are true refugees to the European Union should be allowed to enter the country said Sándor Pintér, the minister of the Interior, in a press release. The only way to ensure Hungary and the EU's safety is to refuse entry to illegal immigrants who have not gone through the formal refugee asylum process, he said.
"Illegal migrants — I do not want to admit, we do not want to be a central location for any crime," he said in a March 12 press release, noting that about 70 percent of refugees in Hungary entered illegally.
Hungary Justice Minister Laszlo Tróscányi said part of the reason for his country’s reaction to the refugees is the fear that over time, they would become disillusioned with their lives in new countries and could be susceptible to radicalization.
“Latest trends show … integration has not been a success,” Tróscányi said. “What I am concerned about is that the young people who leave for Europe with great hopes and high expectations and become disillusioned can’t get what they actually hoped to get. They will be very good recruitment pool for radicalizing populations.”
Proponents also contend that Hungarian citizens feel they shouldn’t be paying for the refugees.
According to the Hungarian Office of Immigration and Nationality, the country spent approximately 5.5 billion forints or $20 million U.S. in 2015 providing food, health care and other resources for the refugees.
“The official reasoning of the government for the new law was that refugees and people with subsidiary protection cannot have more rights and more support than Hungarian citizens, because that would not be fair,” Somogyvári said.
“The problem with this argumentation is that the government tries to sell that refugees have equal opportunities with Hungarian citizens, but this is a lie. Especially in a country like Hungary, where due to the state-supported xenophobia, refugees have an extremely weak chance on the labor market and their chances to rent a room or an apartment are also very low — refugees have a much worse chance to live a normal life,” Somogyvári said.
If the bill package becomes law, it would place greater pressure on non-governmental, non- profit organizations to try to fill the void.
“Surely some refugees will be provided housing, food or even employment opportunities by NGOs, but this will not cover everybody. The money support that the state will abolish is crucial, because if somebody does not have a job, they cannot rely only on food vouchers or medicine given to them. To live a dignified, human life, it is necessary to provide money for those who do not have jobs, because then they have access to those goods and services, which they deem important for themselves,” Somogyvári said.
Extending an Olive Branch
NGOs and local universities have already played a major role in providing transitional aid to refugees and asylum seekers.
For example, Central European University’s OLive Program helps registered asylum seekers and refugees integrate into Hungarian society through language classes, job placement courses and other trainings that promote social and financial integration.
The OLive program was conceived in October of 2015 and launched in January.
“There were a lot of people coming through Hungary, passing through Hungary and everyone really reacting and wanting to do something about, it and I think that had a lot to do with CEU developing this project,” said Simona Gamonte, who helps coordinate the OLive Program and other social integration projects at CEU.
There were five initial courses with approximately 40 students; however only 30 attend regularly, Gamonte said.
In March most of the enrollees were traveling from nearby refugee reception camps, such as Bicske, located 25 miles outside of Budapest, Gamonte said. However, those camps have since closed, save for two tent camps near the Austrian border. This, in addition to the closure of Hungary’s borders, may also affect the number of future students.
CEU’s program currently operates on a two-semester budget of roughly $15,000, raised through a competitive grants system, while the English language learning program is volunteer run, according to Prem Rajaram, the primary organizer of CEU’s OLive program.
“We plan to expand next term to include stipends for students and a funded internship,” Rajaram said. “I’d like to set up a one-year academic training program for refugees with a BA to help them get into university.”
Another non-profit group,The Artemisszio Foundation, is offering migrants assistance with finding jobs and housing, and resolving residency issues. Additionally, language classes are being offered once a week.
“We do integration programs which help refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to feel more at home in Hungary: to find a job easier, to understand the system, to get to know Hungarians, to learn the language, and to become part of a community of locals, both Hungarians and migrants. We run these types of programs since many years, and it is up to our participants which services they choose for themselves,” said Erzsébet Csáky, spokeswoman for the Artemisszio Foundation.
But if the new laws become fully implemented, NGOs worry that they may not have the funds or political support to continue providing services for refugees and asylum seekers.
“We could conclude that the Hungarian NGOs will need a long time to adjust to this new system, and they will be overburdened having to deal with clients who do not have any other places to turn to,” said Somogyvari of the Helsinki Committee.” I do not have enough information now how many projects will be opened for NGOs to apply to, so I am not sure whether these NGOs will have enough well-financed programs and enough staff members to completely take over the obligations of the state.”
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