Refugees from Ukraine arrive at the Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary, 7 March 2022 | Photo: EPA/ZOLTAN BALOGH
Refugees from Ukraine arrive at the Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary, 7 March 2022 | Photo: EPA/ZOLTAN BALOGH

As a result of the war in Ukraine, more than 140,000 refugees have already arrived in Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has changed his position on migration and pledged to aid the war refugees. Where to send them is a very large problem, however, as reception facilities in the country have in recent years been dismantled.

Some 140,000 refugees have arrived in Hungary from Ukraine thus far, according to an estimate provided by the Hungarian authorities on Monday, March 7. Figures from the UN refugee agency UNHCR from Tuesday put the number at 191,348.

Most are women, the elderly, and children that belong to the Hungarian minority in Ukraine, though in recent days many refugees have also arrived from the eastern part of the country under attack from Russian forces.

There are serious problems finding places to lodge the refugees, however, since reception facilities have in recent years been dismantled as a consequence of the Orban government's policy of refusing migration.

Also read: 'We are happy to be here alive': Displaced Ukrainians take refuge in Hungary

Orban welcomes refugees from Ukraine, but not not other migrants

Over the past few days of emergency, the Hungarian prime minister has radically changed his stance on migration.

"All those fleeing from Ukraine will find a friend in the Hungarian state. The rule is to help all refugees from the nearby country. All those fleeing from there must be helped," he said.

The authorities have backed a campaign to donate goods for refugees, counting on the solidarity of the population. Refugees can travel for free on trains if they want to cross the country to Austria and Germany.

While Orban is welcoming those fleeing Ukraine, his government has also made it clear that it is not opening its doors to "illegal migrants" as was suggested by politicians in Hungary and abroad. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto reiterated in a UN Human Rights Counci meeting last week: "The truth is that we do not allow any illegal migrants to enter the territory of Hungary, and we will always protect Hungary from these people," he said.

Szijjarto said there was no comparison between refugees from Ukraine and the people Budapest has labelled "illegal migrants", who have often arrived at its borders after fleeing war and conflict in places like Syria.

Harsh anti-migrant stance

Over the past few years, the United Nations and rights groups like the Hungarian Helsinki Committee have repeatedly criticized Orban's far-right government for its harsh migration policies.

Among other things, Hungary enacted a law in 2018 that threatens jail time for people who support asylum seekers. It also proposed immigration bans and committed thousands of well-documented, illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers.

 

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