Ukrainian refugees struggle to find footing in Hungary

One year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, neighbouring Hungary is struggling to  establish a support system for Ukrainian refugees, which according to humanitarian organisations, struggle to find schooling or affordable accommodation.

More than a million Ukrainian refugees have crossed the Hungarian border since Russia’s invasion of their country over a year ago.

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But just 35,000 have applied for the EU’s temporary protection status in Hungary, fewer than in almost every other EU country in per capita, according to data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Hungarian government has said it is committed to providing support for people fleeing Ukraine, but that the influx has put pressure on the country, already impacted by economic problems such as inflation and rising energy costs.

Against the backdrop of his government’s strong anti-immigration agenda, civil society groups say that refugees from Ukraine who have fled to Hungary have struggled to find accommodation, get access to school places for their children or face other obstacles.

Migration Aid, based in Budapest and set up during the 2015 migration crisis, helps Ukrainian refugees by providing shelter, learning opportunities and information about Hungary relevant for them in all areas of life.

“The big shift is the people who are coming out but he would like to stay longer,” Ágnes Pakot, board member of Migration Aid, told EURACTIV.

According to Pakot, a lack of housing, work and school education opportunities is the biggest challenge Ukrainian refugees face in the country with the war entering its second year.

“There are very few cases when people can find jobs that are tailored to their competencies or needs – they are forced to take what is available,” she said, adding that Ukrainian refugees who are willing to work usually find basic or factory-line work.

“Beyond that financial support from the Hungarian government is relatively low,” Pakot said, adding it would amount to roughly €30 for kids and €50 for adults per month.

In addition, a lack of Ukrainian language support in Hungarian schools is another problem.

Many Ukrainian children instead “learn at home or online as they feel they can’t integrate”, she said.

Hungary has in recent years complained about what it sees as discrimination against a large Hungarian minority in western Ukraine, where more than 100,000 ethnic Hungarians live, blaming Kyiv for not respecting their rights.

“While we are taking in refugee children from Ukraine (…) Hungarian primary and secondary schools in Ukraine are at risk of being closed down,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said last month.

“As a bottom line, our government is doing the minimum required,” Pakot said, admitting that the situation is, however, better than during the 2015 migration crisis.

Asked whether she believes that hosting Ukrainian refugees has changed Hungary’s approach towards future migration crises, Pakot said “it is hard to say, especially as the narrative about the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ type of migrant remains”.

“However, on the other side, we see the need for immigration, especially when it comes to a workforce that you cannot satisfy with the natural growth of the population,” she added.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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