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Life After Recognition: the difficulties of integration for recognised refugees in Hungary

Photo: A “closed” sign hangs on the gates of Debrecen refugee reception centre. Source: Laczko Kornel, vagy.hu


By Attila Szabó

For refugees in Hungary, recognition of their refugee status is just the beginning, not the end, of a complex process. Life after recognition is not simple. They need  to find a job and proper accommodation, all in an often hostile atmosphere in which many refugees decide to leave the country.

Recognised refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection can stay only 60 days (soon to be decreased to 30 days) in the official refugee reception centres, which do not provide particularly comfortable living environments. Thereafter, people who have been recognised must face the harsh reality of life in Hungary, with many of them reconsidering whether to stay in Hungary at all. The decision of whether to leave is sometimes influenced by the location of both of the two reception centres (Bicske and Vámosszabadi) in the west side of Hungary, close to the borders with Austria and Slovakia. Previously the largest reception centre was located in Debrecen, in the east of the country, but this was closed down at the end of December 2015. Maybe this is no coincidence. The change of locations seems to facilitate the secondary migration toward the west.

After the 60 day limit, the refugees must leave the reception centre. Homelessness is a real risk to them, [link opens in PDF] and while their integration is financially supported by the Office of Immigration and Nationality (with this financial support soon to be cut off by the government), in reality the financial support only sufficiently covers the first six months of their residency. The structure of the support and the general anti-immigrant sentiment which has been induced partly by the government’s anti-migrant campaign don’t help to facilitate refugees to stay in Hungary.

One case of an Afghan family illustrates many of the problems associated with Hungary’s refugee integration policy. The family, consisting of two parents and three minor children, arrived in Hungary in 2014. After their recognition they could live the 60 days in the reception centre where, since travel to Budapest was neither easy nor cheap, they were unable to learn Hungarian, apply for jobs or find accommodation. By the time they had to move out of the centre, they were not adequately prepared for their life in Hungary – not helped by the fact that the state-provided financial support for integration didn’t come on time. They were fortunately able to find a free room in the only refugee family’s temporary home in Hungary. This was extremely lucky for them, as this institution is able to house only 80 persons. They can stay there for only a year – and now have just a short time before they need to find new accommodation.

    –  Video from UNITED network organisation Migszol about the difficulties for refugees in finding accomodation in Hungary.

The current challenge is that the parents would like to move to countryside, but the children want to stay in their school in Budapest. Furthermore, the father has job opportunities in Budapest, which will not be available anywhere out of the city. The mother wouldn’t like to work, since it is not usual in their culture for women to have a job, besides the fact that bringing up three children is a full-time job in itself. They find themselves in a huge dilemma, since in the countryside they could buy a cheap house, albeit in bad condition, while in Budapest they would struggle to even pay off a lease. They are forced to move due to their financial situation, but doing so will cut them off from economic opportunities. The time to move out is fast approaching and the decision still hasn’t been made. This family are doing their best to stay and live in Hungary, but the conditions are not suitable.

Like the vast majority of recognised refugees in Hungary, the state offers them no individualised support. On paper the Hungarian refugee integration system doesn’t seem bad, but in practice we can see that without effective personal counselling and orientation most of the refugees are forced to leave Hungary, even it is not legal for them to do so. The Family Support Centres have to provide counselling but often it is only about control not about individual help.

If they are to be returned according to the Dublin Regulation, they will face the real prospect of homelessness.


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Attila Szabó is a legal advisor at Menedék – Hungarian Association for Migrants. He is a member of the International Preparatory Group (IPG) for the upcoming UNITED conference in Torino.


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The next UNITED conference “Moving Stories: Narratives of Migration Crossing Europe”, will focus on the situation of migrants and refugees in Europe, and seek to challenge the prevalent media narrative on migration. Follow all the news on the conference on Twitter, Facebook and the UNITED website.