The special Eurobarometer Report conducted in 2021 revealed that across the EU, Hungary stands out along with Bulgaria and Romania for having respondents showing the lowest level of comfort in having any sort of social relationship with immigrants. According to this report, only 24% of the Hungarian, 29% of the Bulgarian, and 35% of the Romanian respondents feel comfortable having immigrants as friends, neighbors, work colleagues, or any other social role. These numbers are assumed to be a reflection of the governments’ unsuitable treatment of immigrants and their integration (Kantar, 2022). To expand upon this assumption, it is crucial to firstly summarize how these governments have historically handled migration.

To begin with, migration reached a significant stage in Europe in 2014-15, as a large number of mostly Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans went mobile due to ongoing conflicts in their respective home countries. The event led to chaos within the European Union and created a clear divide between two main blocs: on one side there was Germany, which displayed a receptive approach, and on the other side there was Hungary, which adopted a categorical unwelcoming stance (Sebe, 2015). As a response to this disorder, in September 2015, the European Commission proposed a Relocation Scheme that would help organize the major inflow. This scheme foresaw 120,000 refugees seeking protection especially in highly affected countries (Greece, Italy, and Hungary) to be relocated to other EU Member States (European Commission, 2015). Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania voted against the scheme.

It is safe to say that among these countries, Hungary had the starkest negative approach toward migration. From the start of the crisis, the government was not only unsupportive of the incoming refugees, but also initiated a durable anti-migration campaign that included fliers, commercials, billboards, and continuous political speeches targeting migrants. Besides these means, several other governmental measures (policies) were further taken to empower different forms of violence toward migrants (Menjívar et al., 2019). Overall, a discourse that portrayed migrants as ‘invaders’ and ‘terrorists’ was dominant. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the quota scheme presented by the EU was considered to be a ‘threat to sovereignty’, with the joint perception that the ‘migrant Other’ is the Muslim that threatens the European society and endangers its values (Tabosa, 2020). Italy on the other hand enforced limitations on the arrivals of refugees from North Africa (specifically Libya) redirecting them to the Western Mediterranean and Spain, which resulted in a high number of deaths due to drownings (Hintjens, 2019). Additionally, although Bulgaria wasn’t designated to be a final destination, it still implemented several measures that served the rejection of migrants. To be specific, the measures included increased border controls and collaboration with Turkish authorities to prevent asylum seekers from entering Bulgaria’s territory (Nancheva, 2016). Likewise, Slovakia didn’t serve as a pass-through or final destination, yet migration got highlighted as an issue that is competent of putting national security at risk (Androvičová, 2017).

As we progress toward current events, we acknowledge that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has inevitably drawn special attention in the global political sphere in many aspects. As the conflict is taking place, large numbers of people are either moving within Ukraine or fleeing to neighboring countries. Over 8 million Ukrainian refugees have been recorded across Europe at the time of writing (as per the latest updates of UNHCR), from which over 5 million have registered for Temporary Protection or similar national protection schemes in Europe. Thus, the migration issue in Europe is only gaining more and more prominence. Although both these migration crises involve large numbers of people fleeing conflict zones, there is a noticeable and significant difference in how countries with traditional “anti-migrant” views are responding to the current situation. Despite conventionally showing a firm antipathy towards migrants, even the Hungarian government demonstrated a surprisingly hospitable approach.

Researchers have critically examined this “attitude shift”, attempting to trace the underlying motives behind it. The territorial proximity to Ukraine being a contributing factor has been brought up for discussion. On its own, this supposition isn’t comprehensive; therefore it can’t be particularly compelling. For instance, Italy has a shorter distance from Libya than it has from Ukraine, yet the migration flows from the former were way less welcomed than those from the latter (Pettrachin & Hadj Abdou, 2022). Another assumption considers how ethnic and cultural disparities are perceived and employed in current right-wing politics to rationalize particular stances, such as the anti-migration one. For instance, in the Hungarian case, Viktor Orbán regards Muslim refugees as ‘unsecured groups of people who can destroy the cultural identity of Europe’ (About Hungary, 2021), while in other cases denoting that Ukrainians are compatible with the Christian-European values. Additionally, the political discourse in Slovakia and the Czech Republic already comprises the concept of ‘the Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish Other’ not opposing the Czech and Slovak identity/culture because they share at least some common European values (Tabosa 2020).

The way in which migrants have been seemingly either sympathized with or disregarded based on their backgrounds has prompted a third theory in the scholarly community, which considers the role of racism in this phenomenon. The readiness to aid Ukrainian refugees is praiseworthy, however, it gives space for inquiries. Can withholding assistance from non-European refugees in the past while promptly aiding Ukrainian refugees today be considered a form of racism?

Although such questions require further examination, elaboration, and deeper analysis before conclusions can be drawn, they do provide a valid foundation for considering the underlying biases that may exist within Europe toward non-Europeans.

Author: Hana Syla


About Hungary. (2021, September 1). Viktor Orbán at the Bled Strategic Forum. Viktor Orbán at the Bled Strategic Forum.

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Bayoumi, M. (2022). Are Ukrainians more deserving of sympathy than Afghans and Iraqis? Many seem to think so.

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Hintjens, H. (2019). Failed Securitisation Moves during the 2015 ‘Migration Crisis.’ International Migration, 57(4), 181–196.

Kantar. (2022). Integration of immigrants in the European Union. Publications Office.

Menjívar, D. C., Ruiz, D. M., & Ness, D. I. (2019). The Oxford Handbook of Migration Crises. Oxford University Press.

Nancheva, N. (2016). Bulgaria’s Response to Refugee Migration: Institutionalizing the Boundary of Exclusion. Journal of Refugee Studies, 29(4), 549–567.

Pettrachin, A., & Hadj Abdou, L. (2022). LSE European Politics and Policy (EUROPP) Blog: Explaining the remarkable shift in European responses to refugees following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sebe, M. (2015). Romania’s Stance in the Issue of the Refugees Crisis: Preliminary Observations. SSRN Electronic Journal.

Tabosa, C. (2020). Constructing Foreign Policy vis-a`-vis the Migration Crisis: The Czech and Slovak Cases. 55(2).

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