Hungary is the New United States: An Update on the European Refugee Crisis — The Observer

Tanisha Amarakoon
4 min readJun 6, 2021


By: Tanisha Amarakoon (originally published here:

June 20th 2018 marked both World Refugee Day and the third year of the ongoing European migration crisis. This day served as a reminder of the increasing number of refugees in the EU, as well as how little progress the international community has made since 2015 in safely resettling refugees.

Currently over 68 million people in the EU identify as a refugee or asylum seeker, most of whom are fleeing from conflict. In response, the United Nations member states began developing a new migration pact in late 2016 shifting from a unilateral to multilateral approach, with the goal of sharing the responsibility of hosting refugees as a global community. The pact included no mandatory actions for UN member states, but has been set to guide nations towards resettling refugees both safely and humanely.

However, a notable drawback to the success of the pact has been the absence of support from the Western superpower, the United States. Following World War II, the U.S had been considered a global leader on refugee issues, demonstrating core values of love, unity, and support when welcoming asylum seekers. With the current Trump administration, the government has voiced concerns regarding the loss of national sovereignty, identity, and security threats through immigration. This has resulted in the U.S disengaging from government-supported refugee relief. The disengagement has been enforced through the Muslim travel ban, a sharp reduction in refugee resettlement into the U.S, and President’s constant warnings of an ‘outbreak’ of immigrants.

The slow immigration pace set by the Trump administration is resulting in fewer than 20,000 refugees being settled into the U.S — less than half the intake in previous years. Craig Mokhiber, chair of the United Nations migration task force, acknowledges the power the U.S has in influencing other nations’ migration policies. When one of the world’s superpowers consistently justifies being disengaged in a global crisis, it sets an example to other countries that they too do not need to step up.

Perhaps this is the reason behind global disengagement in the refugee crisis, and also the reason as to why Hungary’s immigration policies make the U.S appear lenient.

Hungary has been named the most refugee-resistant country in the EU closely following the footsteps of the U.S. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán — a known Trump supporter — recently approved legislation barring its borders from undocumented immigrants, and establishing punishments for those who attempt to aid them. Hungary has continuously held a hostile attitude towards migrants, notably when it imposed a barrier on its border with Serbia and Croatia that prevented Syrian refugees from travelling to Germany and Sweden. The country continues to defend its aspirations to be an illiberal nation, rejecting multiculturalism in defence of national identity. Similar to President Trump, President Orbán uses harsh and critical language to characterize immigrants.

Leading EU members met in late June of 2018 to fixate a plan focused on burden sharing and unity. However, Hungary, amongst other anti-immigration states, revealed revealed a different agenda prioritizing sovereignty and power at the expense of others — values that lie in stark contrast to the beliefs of the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the 2018 refugee crisis a ‘make or break’ question, declaring it as the most polarizing issue facing the EU. Despite Orbán’s policies continuing to shake an already unstable Europe, the question of whether other countries are stepping up in the absence of support from powerful nations is prompted.

International migration experts conclude that some countries are stepping up to fill the void while others lie in silence. Canada is at the forefront of welcoming nations, not only accepting more refugees than in past years, but also encouraging private-sector and individual citizen sponsorship of refugees. Through which, Canada has demonstrated healthy assimilation in resettlement. Within the EU, Greece has accepted over 58,000 refugees, with Britain sending support to manage the flow of migrants from Turkey. Other EU countries are also stepping up to ensure Greece does not face a reception crisis.

Although, it is important to recognize that the U.S government’s disengagement from the crisis has sparked other actors within the country to extend their support, such as advocacy groups, local governments, and small businesses. An example being the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a groups of Catholic sisters that doubled its advocacy of refugee communities following Trump’s decision to withdraw from the migration pact.

Similar reactions have dawned in Hungary with immigration lawyers risking their lives each day to help asylum seekers through the process of potential re-immigration. Both the lawyers and refugees risk punishments much worse than jail time for actions as innocent as helping a migrant fill out a Hungarian-language form.

Although the refugee crisis is undoubtedly still alive and progressive in 2018, it has ignited groups and individuals to fill the void of support that national governments have left. While the United States’ actions have influenced Hungary to develop more controlling and dictative policies, other countries continue to welcome double the migrants with open arms. Despite the drawbacks of anti-immigration policies from powerful actors, the continuous discussion of responsibility sharing assures the international community that the end to the refugee crisis is just above the horizon.

This piece was originally published in The Observer’s 2018 Summer in Review Print edition. An e-copy of the publication can be found here.



Tanisha Amarakoon

@venture4canada Fellow working @thinkific | Alumni of @queensu | she/her