France and Hungary: Migration through Lens of Religious Freedom

Francesco Hayez: The Refugees of Parga // Public domain

In this article, I would like to present the importance of religion in the migrant integration process. I will get a closer look at the situation of Muslims in Hungary and France and see how they are trying to integrate religious Muslim immigrants.

I chose these two countries because both countries have policies that are against migration. While France has a sizeable immigrant community, Hungary is largely homogenous, making similar anti-immigrant tendencies more interesting to observe. I believe problems related to migration can be solved through cooperation between countries. Also, we should not only examine how countries act and make policies about immigrants coming to the country, but also, how already settled minorities are treated.

Terms and Clarification

Most people talk about migration as a bad thing and something that should be prevented. People fear the unknown and letting new cultures and religions into their country. They dread change and make judgments before anything else. People judge based on stereotypes and limited information learned online and in personal social bubbles. That is why I would like to clarify some important terms before we dig into this topic.

Firstly, we can often hear the two terms refugee and migrant. What is the difference between them?

A refugee is a person who has been forced to flee a country from conflict or persecution and has crossed an international border in search of safety. They cannot return without risking their life or freedoms. It is a legal term that carries certain protections that refugees are entitled to. The term ‘migrant’ does not have an international legal definition.

However, it is commonly understood to refer to someone who has chosen to leave their home to start a new life in another country. A migrant can return home without risking their life or freedom. The movement is understood to be voluntary.

It is important to clarify these two concepts because people tend to use them wrong. Sometimes politicians misuse it for political goals to make migration look bad or use migration and illegal migration as interchangeable expressions, implying that all migration is illegal. They present migration as a thing that people should be afraid of, but that is not necessarily true. The EU has policies about who, how, and when can enter the union from a third country, more on that later.

Before moving on, it is worth mentioning another important factor, integration. But what exactly is integration? What is the difference between integration and assimilation? Integration is having good relations with the majority society while maintaining one’s own culture. Assimilation is the same but in the process, they lose their own culture.

New Migration Pact

The role of the European Union regarding migration is worth discussing. The EU has been trying to make a united policy about migration, but it is always a difficult and complex issue because countries feel like a united policy would violate their sovereignty. There are different rules for people who want to immigrate from EU countries and non-EU states (third countries).

In the case of EU countries movement within the EU is simple thanks to the Schengen area the right of free movement, but for third-country nationals, coming to the EU can be difficult. As there is no unified rule, usually member states determine the rules for entering the country for seeking asylum, and later, gaining permanent residence or citizenship. People come to the EU for different reasons like job and education opportunities and family unifications. These actions require different procedures but with that, they can enter the EU legally.

What makes migration problematic is when it is illegal and irregular, when people come to the EU without documents and proper procedures. I think that scares people the most, especially after the 2015 migration crisis. In that year the Dublin III procedure, which said that refugees have to seek asylum in that EU country where they first arrived, has failed, leaving the EU with a problem to be solved.

After the events of the crisis, xenophobia increased in the EU and migration became a bigger security problem. Trying to solve this problem the European Parliament recently accepted the new Migration and Asylum Pact. This pact’s main goal is to secure external borders, make asylum-seeking procedures fast and efficient, create an effective system of solidarity and responsibility, and embed migration into international partnerships. This pact is needed to be accepted by the European Council and be ratified by the member states which may have to face some barriers but it is a good beginning for harmonizing the Europen migration law.

Migration in France and Hungary

It can be said for both countries that they have a rich history of migration. Interestingly, people were more open to migration in the past, the main reason for that was mainly economic because people needed manpower for work. However, it is important from social aspects as well because people were also more open and especially curious about the new culture and knowledge that the immigrants brought.

This started to change with the rise of nationalism in the late 18th century. Nations started to secure their national heritage and try to integrate minorities more effectively. This was true for France and Hungary as well, but the antipathy for migration mostly increased after the 20th century. The loss of two world wars and for Hungary the devastating peace treaties (especially Trianon) made it more important for the 2 countries to preserve their national identity.

This attitude can be seen in both countries’ policies. Hungary’s government is openly against migration and has strict rules on border crossing. In recent years major amendments were adopted to the asylum law, making it almost impossible to get asylum in Hungary.
France just proposed a new immigration law that makes it harder to get a residency and citizenship and to bring over family members, and see welfare benefits tougher to access. Despite the protest against the bill, claiming it was far-right and the Constitutional Council rejected almost half of its articles the law was passed.

Social Aspects: Importance of Religion

When we talk about migration, one of the first things that comes to someone’s mind is the economic aspects of migration. But the real focus should be on the social one. People come to the country and are greeted by unfamiliarity, they bring their religion and culture. It is important to pay attention to cultural exchange and give opportunities to immigrants not only to be integrated into our culture but also to have the opportunity to share their own.

It is worth examining the social aspects of migration through the Muslim religion. This religion likely had the biggest impact in Europe and it represents itself in most countries. Also, it is essential to mention that when it comes to fear of terrorist attacks most people associate them with the Muslim religion.

However, statistics show that these terrorists appear in countries where there is a Muslim majority. Also, these attacks are committed by radicals. That is why it is important to combat these stereotypes and understand that one of the most important steps of integration is the openness of the other’s religion. That is why I would like to present how religion has big effects on integration and migration and why it is important to ensure the freedom of religion.

Religion is crucial in migration. People tend to integrate and try to adapt to the new culture, but they insist on their religion. We can see the importance of this in the fact that in the asylum-seeking questionnaire, religion is also asked. Also, in the European Union, there is freedom of religion meaning people can practice any religion they want, as is expected from liberal democracy. It is important because usually a small variety of religions (like Muslim and Jewish) are practiced by migrants. That is why it is vital to help their integration with their religion.

Muslims in France

In France, the proportion of Muslims in the total population is 4-5% and according to researchers the number of them will increase continuously. That is why their integration is really important and policies should be implemented, but with the consciousness of the right of the freedom of religion.

On April 11, 2011, the law of the ban of face-covering veils came into force. This meant that Muslim females in public places could not wear their burka, hijab, or anything that covered their faces. I choose to examine this law because through this we can see how the French government is trying to solve the issue of the Muslim immigrants. However, is this law really a good way of integration or is it a violation of religious freedom?

Firstly, I would like to clarify the law that has been enforced in 2011. The law banned clothing that includes full-face coverings – including the burka and niqab. Those who violate the law have to pay a fine or take a French citizenship test.

This law had a lot of support and people believed it was rather a good way of integration. It is a common belief that the veil oppresses women so by banning it they support the women who live in oppression. They also believe that it is a threat to secularism because Muslims do not like to separate religion and the state. They would like to practice their religion even in schools and other public places. This thinking makes integration harder especially because Muslims see themselves primarily as Muslims and not as a member of the French identity.

Furthermore, the government can limit religious freedom in the name of secularism. Secularism, laicité, is handled as a case law of the court which means that it is not dealt with at a European level, so it does not contravene Article 9 of UCHR. The supporters of the law claim that wearing religious symbols is not keeping the national identity and Muslims encourage segregation and woman inequality. They claim that banning the veil helps integration. New researches show that thanks to the ban on the veil the academic performance of students has progressed and there is an increase of mixed marriage. Also according to them, without the veil Muslim students do not have to face everyday bullying and don’t feel like outsiders.

The French government states that this law is helping integration, but there are Muslims and other people who disagree and believe that the law violates religious freedom. According to Muslim women, the veil is their expression of fate, not oppression. In an interview, a Muslim woman says: “They do not want us to be oppressed but they oppress us by not allowing us to wear whatever we want to wear.” If it is banned more women want to wear it. These laws just pay attention to Muslims and increase discrimination.

Melanie Adrian (2009) states in her article: “Being Muslim (in private) is not the issue, but acting Muslim (in public) is”. And most importantly it brings attention to Islamophobia. Muslims in France feel that being tolerated is not the same as being accepted and maybe with these restrictions, it is questionable that the only choice for Muslims is to leave the country which means that the law does not help integration it does the opposite. To conclude, compared to other countries’ policies and experiences we can see the diligence of the French government to integrate Muslim people, but this goal is not reached through the employed method. It can be said that Muslim acceptance is slowly increasing but racism is still significant in most European countries.

Muslims in Hungary

In Hungary, Muslims have their own church community called the Hungarian Muslim Church. It was established in 1988 and it helps Muslims in the country. Sulok Zoltán, the head of the Hungarian Muslim Church, said in a podcast that they have to face some discrimination and conflicts, but it is not that common. Moreover, they feel like they can turn to the authorities for help.

This makes Hungary appear good in terms of religious freedom, although I must mention the fact that certain politicians use stereotypes about migration and Muslims and this causes more discrimination and misinformation about them. It was said by Muslims that in most cases when they were insulted it was because of the stereotypes, more specifically because of their clothes. This problem mostly happened with women because of their headscarves. These women must face discrimination because of their beliefs every day. Although Hungary only talked about having restrictions on wearing a head scarf it was never made into a law.

However, we should not get Hungary credit for treating integration and religious freedom better than other countries like France, because Hungary handles an issue that it does not even have. Hungary has really strict rules on migration and border control resulting in few immigrants to the country. Currently, the proportion of Muslims in Hungary in the overall population is 0,08%. It is a really low percentage compared to other countries, so saying that Hungary is doing something better than other countries would be a false conclusion.

The main conclusion from this is that it is so much easier to integrate people into a country where fewer people immigrate to the country. Moreover, it is important to mention that the Hungarian government is openly against migration and makes really strict rules to prevent immigrants from coming to the country. Not to mention the fact that even if somebody immigrates to the country there is no integration program to help the immigrant to find their place in the country.

The governing party under the leadership of the prime minister campaign against migration for the European Parliament’s elections. The campaign says: “No Migration, No Gender, No War”. With this attitude, the outcome of the government’s campaign will be the increase of xenophobia instead of creating a well-established integration program.


After looking through the important terms and policies about migration we have a clearer picture of the real problem with migration. There are a lot of stereotypes and prejudice about migration and some states strengthen these feelings instead of creating an integration program and trying to cooperate with other states to create a harmonized migration policy. We can see how politicians try using this problem of cultural friction for their interests and create misleading campaigns to achieve their goals.

After going through the troubles of integration in France and Hungary we can see that in the integration process, religion should have a big or a bigger role. Religion is really important for a lot of people, if immigrants feel that they can practice their religion freely and their religion is accepted it would help them integrate, but this requires creating an inclusive legal environment with the freedom of religion in mind.


  • France: New Immigration Law Adopted Despite Constitutional Council Rejecting Almost Half of Its Articles ― Authorities in Marseille Accused of Ignoring Obligations Towards Unaccompanied Migrant Children ― Paris Police Evict Migrant Teenagers From Temporary Housing Despite Freezing Conditions ― Franco-British Migration Pact Blamed For Doubling Of Channel Deaths | European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE)
  • Governance of migrant integration in Hungary | European Website on Integration (
  • France – Immigration, Multiculturalism, Integration | Britannica
  • EXPLAINED: Does France have a hijab ban? (

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