‘They will rape our daughters!” These kinds of preposterous exclamations
shattered the idyll of the peaceful village of Vámosszabadi in western
This summer a new refugee camp has caused havoc and xenophobic
outcries in Hungary. This is just the latest evidence that Hungary needs to
change how it treats immigrants, both on a governmental and civic
Village life in Hungary is much the same as everywhere else.
People gossip, everyone knows everyone, and what everyone is doing. They greet
each other on the streets and any animosity against outsiders is long gone... as
long as your skin is not too dark.
A few months ago the residents of
Vámosszabadi woke up to the news that the government was about to open a refugee
camp close to their homes. This decision by the Interior Ministry was not taken
in consultation with the political leadership of the village.
to the ministry’s plans, the camp would be situated within walking distance of
Vámosszabadi and facilitate a maximum of 200 refugees. The facility is to be
open, meaning the refuges are free to go wherever they want; a measure which
further infuriated the villagers.
Immediately after the news broke, the
residents organized to protest. The main fears of the villagers included a rise
in crime rates, the possibility that the refugees will molest and insult their
children, and that they will spread diseases.
Such paranoid worries shows
how much certain places in Hungary are cut off from globalization and the rise
of racial tolerance.
In the capital, Budapest, people are much more
tolerant and liberal because they have some level of interaction with foreigners
from all over the world, debunking many stereotypes. Whereas in the villages
people are mostly subjected to little or no diversity, and the unknown poses a
This was also the case in Vámosszabadi, which has a population of
Although their efforts to prevent the opening of the camp were
ultimately futile, the Facebook page supporting their cause got twice as many
sympathizers as the number of residents in the village.
The protest group
tried to convince people from neighboring areas to join their cause, but failed.
The neighboring villages couldn’t understand what the uproar was about. The
people of GyÖr, a larger Hungarian city just a few kilometers from Vámosszabadi,
didn’t share the villagers’ fears.
Vámosszabadi residents even organized
a march through GyÖr, holding torches, to protest against the refugees coming
‘to upset their peace and quiet.’ Despite these protests the camp opened, and
obviously the apocalyptic predictions were proven incorrect.
villagers, however, only agreed to a temporary camp, which will have to cease
operating in March, at which time the government will have to review the
necessity of the facility. No one really knows what is going to happen after
For now the police presence in the area has been drastically
raised, cameras have been installed and villagers have bought dogs and installed
alarms. Pro-protest Facebook users are cheerfully counting the days until their
village “gets rid of the foreign threat.”
But the more they interacted
with the refugees, the more most people started realizing their fears were
completely unfounded. They met peaceful families residing in the refugee
At first voices could be heard claiming that the refugee camp and
its inhabitants don’t cause any problems as long as refugees come from Kosovo.
Refugees from Africa, on the other hand, were portrayed as a huge threat to the
After having their first encounters with African
refugees, most people have ignored the stereotypes. They have seen refugees
going to the library and using the Internet and recognize the differences are
actually very minor.
While there are still people raising strong voices
against the camp, the fact is that the refugees have more reason to be afraid of
the villagers’ hostility than the other way around.
LAST YEAR there were
a bit over 2,000 asylum seekers, but this year the number is eight times higher.
The country has no experience in coping with that many refugees, and has
mismanaged the issue.
Many of them are kept behind bars, in closed camps,
even though they are harmless.
Many are subject to police
This has escalated to such levels that in Germany an Afghan
asylum seeker started a hunger strike to protest his transfer back to a
Hungarian camp. Some EU countries have even taken measures against having the
refugees deported back to these conditions.
The EU direly needs to ease
the immigration process, and Hungary has its own issues to resolve. More
interaction is needed with foreigners, and the government must make conditions
better by granting more open facilities, and not imprison peaceful and innocent
There should be a thorough investigation of abuse cases. In
addition Hungary should look beyond its borders to find examples of solutions.
The few facilities Hungary actually has are overcrowded, badly managed, and many
of them are prison-like. Easing immigration processes would reduce the time
refugees have to stay in such camps, require fewer capacities and overall ease
the situation in such camps.
The author is a Young Voices Advocate from
Budapest, where he is studying law.
He runs his own blog and contributes
articles to a Hungarian economics website. He is also the program director and
youth coordinator at a Hungarian economics think tank and vice director at a
Hungarian organization called Polgári Platform that he also helped found.