Russian-Ukrainian war

If police and state media reports were true, there would already be over 5 million Ukrainian refugees in Hungary

“Hungary’s population has increased one and a half times with the arrival of Ukrainian refugees, and the majority of those fleeing the war have come to Hungary” – such absurd statements could be made if we were to give credence to the daily reports on refugees in the public media. In fact, since the war, only about 36,000 Ukrainian citizens have been granted asylum in our country, but for political reasons it is worth exaggerating the figures in public.

‘More than eleven thousand refugees arrived from Ukraine on Saturday’ – this and similar headlines are still used by the public media today to present the National Police Headquarters’ (ORFK) data on border crossings. This gives the impression that Hungary is being inundated with a huge flood of refugees every day of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Since March last year, the ORFK has been publishing daily figures on the number of people who entered Hungary from Ukraine and the number of people from Ukraine who crossed the Romanian-Hungarian border.

Over 10 thousands arrivals per day

The National Police HQ (ORFK) reports the number of people who have crossed the Ukrainian-Hungarian border since the start of the fighting on 22 February 2022. The largest wave of refugees understandably arrived at this time:

at the end of February, more than 15,000 people were crossing from Ukraine into Hungary every day.

More than 10,000 people crossed the Ukrainian border every day until 10 March, after which the number of entries started to decrease. In the period between March last year and now, typically 4-6 thousand people arrive from Ukraine per day.

Since the end of March, the format of the daily police reports has changed. From than on, those entering from Romania and declaring themselves as coming from Ukraine are also counted. They are still all reported in the media as refugees (although they should really be called asylum seekers).

Those entering the Hungarian border from the east are consistently referred to by the media, including MTVA channels, as refugees fleeing the war.

However, commuting workers, people from Transcarpathia visiting their relatives living here and people coming to do shopping are all included in the register.

They are still referred as refugees, even if they return to Ukraine the same day.

Other police figures imply that most of the people mentioned in the police reports are not applying for asylum. They show that in the recent months, only a few dozen people a day have been issued with temporary residence permits. This is the document that could be used, for example, to make an asylum application. The fact that most of entrants do not apply for such a certificate suggests that they do not plan to leave their country for a long time or already have some form of ID to stay in Hungary – for example, they have a Hungarian passport as dual nationals.

How many refugees have actually arrived?

If we add up the numbers of entries reported in the police statistics, it is obvious how absurd it is to report daily border crossings as “more than 10,000 refugees arrived yesterday”.

This would mean that nore than 5 million refugees have entered Hungary since the beginning of the war.

In other words, not only would Hungary’s population have increased one and a half times, but the majority of the 8 million Ukrainians who have fled the war would have come mostly to Hungary.

Needless to say, this is not supported by international data. According to the UNHCR, Poland has received the largest number of Ukrainian asylum seekers: more than 1.6 million. Poland is followed by Germany, which has received around 945,000 asylum seekers, and the Czech Republic, which has received half a million asylum seekers.

Hungary actually hosts less than one per cent of the refugees fleeing the war, around 36,000 people, according to UNHCR figures. Countries as far away as the United States, Ireland and Spain have taken in far more refugees than Hungary.

Why is it useful

Since the beginning of the war, the government have overemphasised the refugee crisis Hungary is dealing with, calling the relief effort “the largest humanitarian operation in Hungary’s history”. Politicians claimed that we have taken in hundreds of thousands, and some say even a million refugees.

There are two reasons overstating the effort is useful for Viktor Orbán’s government. On the one hand, it is used for propaganda against Ukraine.

Kyiv criticised the Hungarian government for actions such as blocking sanctions against those who support Russian aggression, deepening Hungary’s dependence on Russia for energy, and Viktor Orbán’s statements that Ukraine will inevitably lose the war. Responding to this, government mouthpieces called Zelensky ‘ungrateful’ because, despite the supposed massive sacrifices they have done for their refugees, he is still ‘attacking Hungary’.

On the other hand, the poor performance of the economy can also be blamed on the refugee crisis. On several occasions, pro-government politicians have said that Hungary is forced to finance the care of refugees out of its own pockets because the European Union is not helping. This is false since the European Union has provided Hungary with more than 10 billion forints from several sources – the REACT-EU fund on the one hand, and the so-called Home Affairs Funds on the other – to help care for refugees in Ukraine. REACT-EU is one of the funds that the European Commission blocked due to corruption and other concerns, but part of it was still paid out after the war broke out to help deal with the refugee crisis.

The problem is that, as the Prime Minister’s Office has admitted, the REACT-EU funds have already been spent for other purposes. And Hungarian state aid is also very opaque financially: the Charity Council received HUF 3 billion for refugee care, which was not accounted for last year.

Refugees largely relied on volunteers

As we wrote last year: in fact, the level of aid provided by the Hungarian state is far below that of the Visegrád countries, even though it have received far fewer refugees in terms of population. Last year, even Slovakia, with a population of 5.4 million, took in more than three times as many asylum seekers as Hungary, while the quality of care received by each refugee was much better than in Hungary.

Hungary is unable to properly care for even a small number of Ukrainian refugees

Despite the government’s claims of shouldering much of the burden of the Ukrainian refugee crisis, Hungary accepted only a fracture of Ukrainians fleeing the war. Even with the small number or refugees, the government care system is performing poorly, and NGOs and volunteers are trying to fill the gaps with varying degrees of success.

From the very beginning, NGOs and voluntary groups that did not receive any support from the state played a key role in the Ukrainian refugee crisis, aiding through social work and voluntary donations. In May this year, asylum seekers transiting through Hungary continued to be accommodated in the Migration Aid NGO’s shelter on the Madridi road. The shelter has been run by community donations all along and in July it appeared that due to inflation, volunteers could no longer afford to pay its costs. Eventually, the “Madrid” was saved, but again thanks to NGO donations, not public ones.

Zalán Zubor

Cover image source: Wikimedia Commons