Budapest, Hungary – Although numbers of refugees arriving in Europe have drastically fallen since its 2015-2016 peak, most EU countries still predominantly oppose more immigration. Among them, Hungary leads the charge.
Regularly denounced by experts, rights activists and EU partners, the Hungarian government’s constant fear-mongering about immigration and its recurrent portrayal of refugees as a fundamental threat to society has left a deep and lasting mark in the population, as new data suggests.
An extensive recent Pew Research Center study sheds some light on the perception of immigration and refugees in ten European countries, including Hungary and Poland.
According to the Pew survey, 72% of Hungarians want fewer or no migrants at all, with only 2% of them wishing more immigrants come to the country. Nearly three-fourth of respondents in Hungary (73%) consider immigrants to be a burden “because they take jobs and social benefits”, the second highest rate among surveyed nations after Greece (74%) and more than 20 percentage points higher than in Poland. Only a tiny fraction of Hungarians (5%, the lowest rate among all the countries) consider that immigrants make the country stronger.
Interestingly, Hungary is the only country – with Poland – where young people (aged 18 to 29) are the least prone to consider that immigrants make the country stronger. In Hungary, lower-income people are slightly more prone to believe that immigrants are an asset instead of a burden, contrary to most other EU countries.
A strong majority of Hungarians (66%, highest rate in both categories) also believe immigrants want to be distinct from society and increase the risk of terrorism.
The situation doesn’t vary much when additional factors weigh in. For instance, asked about their opinion on taking in refugees fleeing violence and war, a majority of Hungarians oppose the idea (54%). Half of respondents also oppose encouraging highly-skilled immigrants to come and work in Hungary (first highest rate, tied with Italy).
However, “only” 33% of Hungarians believe immigrants are more to blame for crime than other groups: this is roughly 20 points lower than in Germany or Sweden, where a majority of respondents blame immigrants for crime, and lower than the European median.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who last week-end hosted an international summit on migration with a panel of speakers mostly composed of outspoken Islam critics, has made the issue of immigration his flagship topic ahead of the European elections in May, echoing and amplifying deeply-rooted fears of immigrants and Muslims in the Hungarian population.