As nations open their borders to those fleeing the war in Ukraine, the international community applauds the refugees’ fortitude, their government's tenacity, and neighboring countries' acceptance. Although the refugee policies of western states are admirable and necessary, these welcoming gestures have not always been extended to refugees fleeing violence from other countries.
Since Vladimir Putin began his full invasion on February 24th, millions of refugees have sought asylum in neighboring countries, including Hungary. With a population near 10 million, Hungary has taken in more than 450,000 Ukrainians since the invasion (Relman). In response to the high volume of refugees seeking safety in Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban stated, “We’re prepared to take care of [Ukrainians], and we’ll be able to rise to the challenge quickly and efficiently.” Although this promise of support is commendable, it raises questions about inconsistencies in the treatment of refugees from other countries.
In 2015, there was a surge of refugees, mainly from Syria and Afghanistan (Park). Hungary implemented an amendment that gave authorities the power to reject these refugees and deport these asylum seekers (Amnesty International). Additionally, Hungary constructed a 175 km, four-meter high fence along the border to make it more difficult for refugees and migrants to enter the country (Amnesty International). The European Court of Justice has since ruled that this pushback law violated European Union law (Coakley).
After Hungary’s pushback law went into effect, it launched a xenophobic anti-migrant campaign to distort the public’s perception and, ultimately, the acceptance of refugees. A booklet sent to 4.1 million Hungarian households argued that people should vote against the European Union’s relocation plan, which outlined a binding quota for Hungary to take in 1,294 asylum seekers (Gall). Billboards strategically placed around Hungary made false claims, such as “Did you know that since the beginning of the immigration crisis, the harassment of women has risen sharply in Europe?” This deceitful propaganda cost Hungarian taxpayers 16 million dollars (Gall).
The dichotomy between the treatment of Ukrainians and other refugees raises many important questions surrounding the intersection between geographic proximity, perceptions of kinship, and “othering” refugees of color (Kallius et al). Because Ukraine shares a border with Hungary, it holds a more robust political agency than other countries like Syria or Afghanistan. Many media outlets have utilized this perception of geographic kinship to mask their organized hypocrisy and racist policies against other countries. The acceptance of Ukrainian refugees is rapidly eroding the “security” facade of Hungary’s refoulement policy.
This covert and hypocritical refugee discrimination violates Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (ReliefWeb). This devastating Ukrainian crisis can open international conversations on the importance of habilitating refugees and examining geopolitical relations. Refugees are an opportunity to boost economic and social growth for the receiving country. Duplicitous policies slowly unravel societal morality and can have a long-lasting ill effect not only on the fleeing refugees, but also on the host countries.
Coakley, Amanda. “Hungary's Orban Defends Response to Ukraine War Refugees.” Russia-Ukraine War News | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 3 Mar. 2022, www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/3/hungarys-orban-defends-response-to-ukraine-war-refugees.
“Europe's Official, Media Handling of Ukrainian Crisis Exposes Deep-Rooted, Racist Policy against Non-Europeans [En/Ar] - Ukraine.” ReliefWeb, OCHA Services, 3 Mar. 2022, reliefweb.int/report/ukraine/europes-official-media-handling-ukrainian-crisis-exposes-deep-rooted-racist-policy.
Gall, Lydia. “Hungary's Xenophobic Anti-Migrant Campaign.” Human Rights Watch, 13 Sept. 2016, www.hrw.org/news/2016/09/13/hungarys-xenophobic-anti-migrant-campaign.
“Hungary: Change to Asylum Law Puts Tens of Thousands at Risk.” Amnesty International, 30 July 2015, www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/07/hungary-change-to-asylum-law-puts-tens-of-thousands-at-risk/.
Kallius, Annastiina, et al. “Immobilizing Mobility: Border Ethnography, Illiberal Democracy, and the Politics of the ‘Refugee Crisis’ in Hungary.” American Ethnologist, vol. 43, no. 1, 2016, pp. 25–37., doi:10.1111/amet.12260.
Park, Jeanne. “Europe's Migration Crisis.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 23 Sept. 2015, www.cfr.org/backgrounder/europes-migration-crisis.
Relman, Eliza. “Hungary's Notoriously Anti-Immigrant, Trump-Backed Leader Is Doing Little to Help the Thousands of Ukrainian Refugees He's Allowed into the Country as He Campaigns for Re-Election.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 24 Mar. 2022, www.businessinsider.com/hungarys-putin-friendly-trump-backed-viktor-orban-campaigns-amid-refugee-crisis-2022-3#:~:text=Hungary%20is%20continuing%20to%20reject,and%20who%20is%20a%20refugee.
Picture Source: “UN High Commissioner for Refugees Urges States to Urgently Lift Pandemic Restrictions on Asylum.” SchengenVisaInfo.com, Schagenvisainfo News, 23 May 2022, www.schengenvisainfo.com/news/un-high-commissioner-for-refugees-urges-states-to-urgently-lift-pandemic-restrictions-on-asylum/.