Hungary’s liberal, inclusive and multicultural refugee strategy

The Orbán government does not appear keen on publicizing what it has done over the years to accept and integrate migrants and refugees, nor has Fidesz shared with the public its strategy, developed in 2013 and submitted to the European Union, that aimed to make Hungarians more tolerant of diversity. According to the government’s Migration Strategy completed in October 2013, and meant to be in effect until 2020, the Fidesz-led government would:

“Encourage the establishment of NGOs focused on migration, develop their capacities and establish a forum for cooperation among these groups. The strategy would support the work of volunteers engaged in the field of integration, it would include programs to enhance a perspective of acceptance among Hungarians, launch informative campaigns and would promote an alignment to cultural diversity.”

To help align the Hungarian population to a perspective that embraces cultural diversity, and for providing refugees with housing and other support, Hungary received 98 million euros from the European Union’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, to be used between 2014 and 2020. All of this seems like a bad joke, in light of the endless anti-Soros and anti-migrant billboard campaigns and the “national consultations.”

But the Orbán government, despite its furious rhetoric, has been engaged in the settlement and integration of refugees and has attempted to conceal this from the public. For instance, last year Hungary accepted 1,294 refugees. Kristóf Altusz, deputy state secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Hungary accepted people fleeing persecution due to political or religious reasons and also those who had to flee due to their sexual orientation. Mr. Altusz confirmed that the government, which at the time was already engaged in its anti-migrant and anti-Soros campaign, chose not to make this public.

Government officials were also silent on the fact that a program in Budapest has been providing subsidized or free housing to refugees. While most refugees who filed a claim in Hungary intended to move on to Austria or Germany, hundreds since 2017 have opted to settle in Hungary and have been receiving aid from the government. A housing program for refugees and migrants was launched in August 2016 and the municipal entity overseeing public housing and homeless shelters in Budapest received 83 million forints in funding from the national government. Fully 75% of the funds come from the EU, while the Orbán government covers 25% of the integration of refugees from the national budget.

Migrants in Budapest. MTI / Szilárd Koszticsák

When it became public that Budapest has had a housing strategy and program for migrants for the past 18 months, journalists were understandably interested in obtaining more information. Budapest’s Fidesz Mayor, István Tarlós and his administration, however, have prohibited the relevant department from answering any media queries on the program.

These efforts on the part of the government–accepting refugees fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation and providing free or subsidized housing–could nuance the image abroad of a government seemingly lacking all compassion. But Mr. Orbán’s regime has been purposefully quiet on all of these efforts as they would fly in the face of the racist, anti-migrant propaganda that wins votes in Hungary.

Both Jobbik and the Hungarian Socialist Party are calling for an independent inquiry into the Orbán government’s “secret” refugee strategy.

Ultimately it is unavoidable that refugees and migrants will settle in Hungary and that Hungarians will work side-by-side foreigners in a range of sectors that are experiencing a debilitating labour shortage, particularly in construction and the hospitality industry. A lot will have to be done if Mr. Orbán is serious about “promoting an alignment to cultural diversity” in Hungarian society.

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