Why Does Hungary Need Common European Asylum Policy?

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The refugee wave which has affected the European Union is different every year. Nevertheless, it does not subside. It may change in terms of the number of refugees and their nationality, but it is still a serious issue in the EU. If one of the members states was to adapt a somewhat misguided policy, estimating the scope of the problem as well as applying efficient solutions to deal with the situation might become even more difficult. This is why common EU regulations of asylum policy could come in handy when it comes to providing support to the most affected member states. For example, to Hungary.

Based on how the Hungarian government communicates the refugee issue, an average Joe Bloggs may think that the vast majority of asylum seekers arriving in Hungary leave their homelands simply to take away the jobs of the Hungarians (and, of course, they have no respect for Hungarian culture, and would not comply with our laws). Since most Hungarians have not really experienced the problem first hand, they rely on the images and sound bites they are fed with via campaigning and television. As for the latter, one of the public television news programs for many weeks keeps reporting on the issue in such a prejudiced manner – it shows refugees in crowded public places, surrounded by the police or during check-ups, what further enhances the negative image of refugees cultivated by the government. However, not so surprisingly, the existing data may, actually, more accurately show the other side to the story.

According to Eurostat statistics for 2015 from the first quarter of the year, out of the total number of asylum seekers who submitted applications for a Hungarian citizenship, 70% were originally from Kosovo, 12% from Afghanistan and 7% from Syria. Moreover, let’s not forget that the northern part of Kosovo as well as the two other states are considered as countries not recommended as a travel destination, according to the Hungarian Foreign Office. Actually, it would not be an overstatement to claim that in the abovementioned countries people do not only struggle with poverty, but in many cases their lives are in grave danger. Moreover, last year, 35-36% of the refugees from Afghanistan and Kosovo were children under the age of 18. Therefore, when Viktor Orbán talks about 90-95% of refugees being actually economic immigrants, he is far from being accurate.

1The asylum applications in Hungary by citizenship rates. Source: Eurostat

However, we should be aware that the assessment of asylum applications in Hungary is very strict: the largest group that arrived in Hungary (Kosovar asylum seekers) was eventually struck with a high number of rejected applications – in 2014, only 7% of Kosovars were positively evaluated; the same high rejection rate applies to Syrian or Afghan refugees (95 and 63%). Introducing a common EU refugee policy might result in softening the regulatory regime and would mean that almost all applicants for asylum could be automatically accepted.

Some refugee waves can be predicted: it is, for example, not surprising that after the outbreak of a war/civil war many people tend to move to a more peaceful locations. In some cases, however, not only may the conflict initiate a wave of fleeing refugees, but it may also affect the policy of a state/region that serves as a potential destination of their refuge. Therefore, the European Union and (in this case) Hungary have to find a way to manage the situation when there is a real increase in the number of asylum seekers. The planned tightening of the Hungarian regulations is feared by the potential refugees, who while considering living their homeland behind only a last resort start to wonder: what if they do not leave their country now and do not have such a chance later?

In this respect, the Orbán government’s communication strategy may actually act as a catalyst and cause residents of Kosovo to move before the eventual physical closure of the Hungarian border. Thus, the government seems to have made the problem even bigger than it was before. The fact is that the number of asylum seekers has increased significantly in the last two years – moreover, it is unevenly distributed among the Member States. Between the fourth quarter of 2014 and the first quarter of 2015, asylum applications in Hungary increased by 17% – only in Germany experienced even more significant increase (to one-third). Needless to say, the percentage of Kosovar refugees, who constitute the largest group of asylum seekers both in Hungary and Germany, has also increased significantly.

2The asylum applications in the European Union by citizenship rates. Source: Eurostat

Moreover, if we take a look at the overview of the nationalities of asylum seekers over the past few years, we will notice that it varies significantly from year to year: Syrian and Afghan refugees are reported in the five largest sub-group every year, the rest changes on a yearly basis.

Furthermore, it seems that it is not only the nationality of the petitioners that has changed over time, but countries to which refugees submit their applications also have changed significantly. The proportion of asylum applications in Germany increased: In 2012 every one in four applications (in 2014 already one in three) was submitted there. Furthermore, it seems that in 2014 Hungary has taken the fifth place – 7% of all applications were registered in our country.

3The proportion of asylum applications submitted in Member States (five highest ratio per country per year). Source: Eurostat

All this seems to prove that a pan-European solution to the issue of refugees must be found: It is a rapidly changing process that may pose some difficulties to any member state at any time. It is therefore in the best interest of all member states, including Hungary, to come up with a common set of EU regulations, which would flexibly follow the change of refugee flows and provide support for the country that needs assistance the most at a given point in time.

Roland Reiner