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Orbán Claims Hungary Leads in Taking in Ukrainian Asylum Seekers, but Data Suggest Otherwise

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently made claims that Hungary has carried out "the largest humanitarian action", but international statistics do not support this statement.
In a radio interview last Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán praised Hungary's role in welcoming those fleeing the war in Ukraine, claiming, "We have carried out the largest humanitarian action". However, Orbán did not clarify against what benchmark he considered Hungary's refugee efforts in relation to Ukraine the "largest", and the available statistical data suggests that, at best, Hungary is in the middle of the pack, or, based on certain metrics, closer to the bottom among recipient countries.

The head of government discussed how more than a million people were granted entry to and/or passage through Hungary and tens of thousands of Ukrainians are living in the country, "whom we provide with work".

"Hungary belongs to Hungarians, but we are still willing to give work to Ukrainians because they are in trouble," the prime minister said, evaluating the support provided to Ukrainian refugees within the country.

According to data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), since February 2022, there have been 3.7 million internally displaced persons recorded in Ukraine and another 6.4 million sought refuge abroad due to the war. In Europe, a total of 5.9 million Ukrainian refugees were registered by the end of December, nearly 2 million of whom are in the countries that are part of the so-called Regional Refugee Response Plan (RRP), aimed at addressing the Ukrainian crisis.

The RRP was initiated in early March 2022 with the participation of the host countries' governments. Its members include:

- Bulgaria,

- Czech Republic,

- Estonia,

- Hungary,

- Latvia,

- Lithuania,

- Moldova,

- Poland,

- Romania, and

- Slovakia.

Specifically, concerning Hungary: UNHCR's up-to-date statistics indicate slightly more than 41,000 Ukrainian asylum seekers requested protection in Hungary by the end of December last year. The actual number of Ukrainians who achieved refugee status might be slightly lower. With these figures, Hungary ranks second-to-last among countries under the RRP that have accepted asylum seekers.

Hungary surpasses only the considerably smaller Moldova in the number of Ukrainian asylum seekers.

Upon reviewing the data, it becomes evident that the largest burden among these countries is not on Hungary, but Poland, with its 1.64 million asylum seekers seeking protection. The second closest to Hungary in population size is the Czech Republic, where over 581,000 Ukrainians have sought protection. Romania and Slovakia, both neighboring Ukraine and invaded by Russia in 2022, are also ahead of Hungary: the former hosts 155,000, and the latter slightly less than 135,000 people who have sought protection. The Baltic states Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia likewise surpass Hungary in this regard.

The UN also shares other data on a country-by-country basis regarding refugees from Ukraine. According to another key dataset, the number of registered asylum seekers from Ukraine was just over 65,000 in Hungary, placing the country in the middle tier of RRP nations. The discrepancy between the two numbers can be explained by the fact that many although likely fleeing the war as well have not yet applied for protection or, for example, reside in Hungary with a work permit, explained Zsolt Szekeres, legal director of the refugee program at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, to our newspaper.

As the statistics reveal, approximately 4.2 million individuals have crossed the Hungarian border from Ukraine since February 22, 2022. However, this number includes commuters, shoppers crossing the border, and those merely transiting through the country. For further detail on why and how the police statistics provided in daily reports can be misleading, we have previously written.

Szekeres Zsolt points out that there are no accurate data on exactly how many people actually fled from Ukraine and are living in Hungary on a permanent basis. One reason is that among those genuinely fleeing, many are Hungarian citizens who do not appear in refugee statistics. Similarly, data related to employment is complex and difficult to unravel.

"The employment of Ukrainian refugees in Hungary encounters many problems from various aspects. Many employers do not even know that they can legally hire Ukrainian citizens with refugee documents," said Szekeres Zsolt, adding that issues with informal and exploitative employment practices have also emerged. Additionally, considering that half of the Ukrainian refugees in Hungary are children and a significant portion of the adults are elderly who are not working, the picture becomes even more complex. However, in relation to the prime minister's statement, it appears accurate that those fleeing from Ukraine are entitled to work legally in Hungary. Nonetheless, Szekeres estimated that the number of those effectively entering the labor market, including Hungarian citizens, could indeed only be a few tens of thousands.

Practice further shows that the picture is also not clear regarding Ukrainian children's access to education or healthcare. According to Szekeres Zsolt, one reason for this is that there has been no effective coordination of such tasks for a long time and no clear, comprehensible information available. This, he adds, is partly due to the systematic destruction of the domestic refugee system.

Regarding housing-related tasks, the government revised the regulations last September. Among other changes, they reduced the state financing from 7,000 to 5,000 forints that landlords are entitled to per housed person. According to a Radio Free Europe article, as of September 15, working-age asylum seekers who are not employed or whose employers have not contracted with their accommodation provider were forced to leave their state-financed housing. Only the following remain in the accommodations:

- Those over the age of 65,

- Individuals living with disabilities,

- Pregnant women,

- Those under 18 and one of their parents.

The other parent, however, falls under regulations applicable to the working age, which, according to Szekeres Zsolt, has led to dramatic consequences, including the splitting up of refugee families.

We have reached out to the Prime Minister's Office to clarify what the prime minister meant by "the largest humanitarian action" and against what measure this was considered the largest. We will update our article as soon as we receive a response.

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