politics in hungary
Hungary is a landlocked European nation of nearly 10 million that operates under a parliamentary government system. Historically, the political divide in Hungary led to highly competitive elections, with the prime minister and presidential positions democratically grappled over. Elected as prime minister in 2010, Viktor Orbán is an outspoken Eurosceptic, self-proclaimed illiberal and member of the right-wing Fidesz party. Orbán has slowly centralized government powers, squashed political opposition and threatened freedom of the press for nearly a decade. Orbán supporters point to the prime minister’s rapid response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, which hit Hungary in March 2020 but has experienced near-eradication from the country, as evidence of his effectiveness. Implementing a five-year jail sentence for promoting misinformation about the virus, closing borders and shutting down non-essential businesses early, Orbán undoubtedly contributed to Hungary’s successful containment of COVID-19. However, the power he indirectly obtained from the virus also contributed to his controversial ambitions to redefine politics in Hungary.

5 Ways COVID-19 is Changing Politics in Hungary

  1. The Effects of Unilateral Decisions: In March 2020, Hungary’s Fidesz-dominated government approved a law allowing Orbán to make unilateral decisions concerning COVID-19 resources, response funding and guidelines. Orbán has since exploited this ruling, taking steps to weaken the platforms of opposing politicians, largely from left-leaning mayors, as the 2022 parliamentary election approaches. While this legislation was to bolster local responses to the virus without needing approval from parliament, its loopholes enabled Orbán to also reallocate municipal funds, neglect transparency about vaccination updates and control the media more tightly.
  2. Flawed Communication: Orbán has failed to provide local leaders data about vaccinations, case numbers, hot-spots and other vital public health information. As mayors lack this data, they have struggled to decide if and when their constituents can return to normal economic and social activities. Although parliament formally ended the Hungarian state of emergency in June 2020, the March legislation remains. Orbán and future prime ministers, through another legislative loophole, will still wield many of the unilateral decision-making powers that enable poor communication and vertical collaboration within the government.
  3. Targeted Tax Cuts: A contentious component of Orbán’s COVID-19 response strategy has been the tax cuts on both public and private businesses that stimulate local level economies. Before the pandemic, the Hungarian economy was relatively stable, with increased wages, low unemployment and steady growth despite the looming issue of inflation. Almost immediately after COVID-19 hit Hungary, Orbán cut taxes on several municipal services by making public parking free. With urban cities like Budapest already losing revenue from public transit and other public services, Orbán’s parking tax cut appears to assist citizens but drains local funding vital to the efficiency of politics in Hungary and virus containment.
  4. Economic Zoning: In another unilateral decision, Orbán categorized certain businesses as “special economic zones.” Under Orbán’s plan, revenue and taxes that businesses generated, qualifying as “special economic zones,” go toward the national COVID-19 response fund instead of stimulating local economies. Projections determine that working-class and factory towns, like God, could lose up to $170 million over the next four years as a result of Orbán’s zoning legislature.
  5. Refugee Restrictions: For the last decade, Orbán has vocalized his conservative stance on refugees and migrants. Using his newly acquired emergency power, Orbán, like many world leaders, has slowed the influx of all immigrants, even vulnerable refugee populations. In May 2020, despite low COVID-19 infection rates, Orbán further threatened the institution of asylum in Hungary. Justifying his actions with the pandemic, Orbán ordered the relocation and detainment of refugees and continued to build a fence at the country’s Serbian and Croatian borders. A product of unsound politics in Hungary, Orbán’s refugee policies leave former citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran more vulnerable to the virus and with even fewer options for obtaining asylum in Europe.

Moving Forward

With an election approaching, approximately half of Hungarians approving of the Fidesz party and Orbán’s approval rating at an all-time high of 57%, the stability of politics in Hungary is in danger. As partisan leaders have largely failed in efforts to hold Orbán democratically accountable, NGOs like Freedom House are stepping in to influence politics in Hungary. Freedom House collects data on political overreach and provides educated reports and quantitative scores on the status of democracy in Hungary, where critical press coverage of the government is punishable. The reliable and in-depth assessments that Freedom House generates provide crucial evidence for Orbán’s political opposers. If these opposers, who advocate for democracy and decentralized government, can regain parliament seats in 2022, Hungarians in the political minority will likely regain a voice.

Caledonia Strelow
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Healthcare in HungarySince the year 2000, Hungary has made strides to improve its healthcare system, which for decades has lagged behind the healthcare systems of other countries in the European Union (EU). Unequal issuing of medical equipment, the prevalence of smoking, drinking and obesity and an unstable political system have resulted in systematic healthcare issues in Hungary, which disproportionately affect citizens living in poverty. Here are seven facts everyone should know about healthcare in Hungary.

7 Facts About Healthcare in Hungary

  1. Hungary has one of the lowest life expectancies in the EU. In 2017, life expectancy in Hungary averaged 76 years, a four-year increase since the year 2000. Despite the improvement, the Hungarian life expectancy is still 4.9 years behind that of other Europeans. Hungarians have higher rates of risk factors, such as smoking, obesity and underage alcohol consumption than other countries in the EU, which can contribute to an early death.
  2. As of 2017, Hungary’s rate of amenable mortality is twice that of the rest of the EU. Amenable mortality refers to deaths from diseases and conditions that are nonfatal when given appropriate medical care.
  3. Socioeconomic inequalities in Hungary contribute to lower life expectancy. Lower-income Hungarians are more likely to report unmet medical needs than those with a higher income. Out-of-pocket spending in the country is double the EU average and medical care is most readily available to those who can afford to pay. Though access to medical care is not an issue across the board, lower-income Hungarians are 11 times more likely to complain of unmet healthcare needs.
  4. Healthcare in Hungary suffers from an unequal distribution of equipment. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Hungarian counties with the lowest health status tend to also have the lowest numbers of necessary medical supplies. The distribution of resources is concentrated largely in the capital of Budapest and the counties with the highest health status. The city of Budapest alone has 87% more doctors and 64% more hospital bed space than the rest of the country.
  5. Healthcare in Hungary does excel in some areas but still has systematic problems. In 2016, the Euro Health Consumer Index ranked the Hungarian healthcare system 30th out of 35 countries in the EU. Though Hungary does excel in infant vaccination and physical education, it has some of the EU’s highest waiting times for CT scans and a higher than average occurrence of lung disease, infections and cancer deaths. It also had the second-highest prevalence of bribery among hospital workers. Hungarian physicians are particularly susceptible to this form of corruption due to their low pay. Their acceptance of these so-called “gratitude payments” puts those who cannot afford to pay extra at a disadvantage.
  6. The World Health Organization (WHO) rewarded the government’s anti-tobacco initiatives. In 2013, the WHO awarded Prime Minister Viktor Orbán with its WHO Special Recognition award for “accomplishments in the area of tobacco control.” In recent years, the Hungarian government has developed anti-tobacco campaigns to quell the high percentage of smokers in the country. These reforms include changing the labels on tobacco products to include warnings of the potential side effects of smoking and banning smoking in public spaces. The country has also taken steps to ban advertisements for tobacco products and, since then, has seen a reduction of smoking-related deaths.
  7. Reforms to increase the healthcare workforce are in progress. In November 2018, the government rolled out a plan to increase physicians’ pay 72% by 2022, and, in early 2020, announced government scholarships for 3,200 people in order to bring more Hungarians into the understaffed nursing profession.

Healthcare in Hungary today is still behind many other countries in the European Union. Hungarians have lower life expectancies than other Europeans and the country is in need of more skilled doctors and nurses to properly treat all of its people. However, in recent years, the Hungarian government has invested more money to reduce the country’s high rates of smoking-related deaths and increase the healthcare workforce. Healthcare in Hungary has experienced a positive change in recent years and, with more investments in the healthcare sector, more necessary reforms can be made.

Jackie McMahon
Photo: Flickr

Life expectancy in Hungary
Socioeconomic discrepancies and health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, have contributed to life expectancy in Hungary, a landlocked country in central Europe. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Hungary.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Hungary

  1. Life Expectancy: Life expectancy at birth in Hungary was approximately 76 years in 2017. Meanwhile, women had a mortality rate of approximately 80 per 1,000 female adults, whereas men had a mortality rate of about 168 per 1,000 male adults.
  2. Regional Differences: While individuals living in Eastern Hungary have higher GDP values, indicative of greater overall economic benefit, those in the western regions of the country are at a greater disadvantage. For example, for those living in Budapest, the GDP per capita was a little more than 5,000 forints per capita, whereas those living in Western Hungary, like Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, had a GDP per capita of fewer than 2,000 forints per capita. Western Hungarian areas, like South Transdanubia, often experience worse economic conditions and poorer health, contributing to lower life expectancy. Men living in Budapest have four years higher life expectancy at birth than males in Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg. With regard to female life expectancy at birth, there is a gap of approximately 1.5 years between these two regions.
  3. Socioeconomic Effects: Socioeconomic discrepancies have influenced life expectancy trends in Hungary as well. In comparing the life expectancies of 25-year-old men and women residing in Hungary, those who had access to a university education had life expectancies that exceeded those of individuals who did not finish secondary education by nearly nine years.
  4. Risk Factors: In 2010, dietary risks, followed by high blood pressure, tobacco and smoking, were the leading risk factors of those living in Hungary. For those under the age of 5 and adults between 15 and 49 years old, iron deficiency was a leading risk factor, followed by alcohol use in 2010.
  5. Disease Prevalence: Cardiovascular disease and cancer account for approximately 75% of all deaths in Hungary. Analyzing the effects of these diseases more specifically, ischemic heart disease, lung cancer and stroke caused the majority of deaths and, ultimately, played a significant role in lowering life expectancy.
  6. Health Expenditure: Hungary spent approximately 6.88% of its GDP on health-related services and issues in 2017. This is lower than the worldwide average of approximately 9.896% in the same year.
  7. Quality of Care: With cancer being a leading factor in determining life expectancy, it is essential to examine what Hungary is currently implementing in order to curtail such a disease. Despite having the highest European cancer death rates, Hungary had instituted relatively poor screening programs to lower the prevalence of cancer. In 2015, only 47% of Hungarian women between the ages of 45 and 65 received screening for breast cancer in the previous two years, and the rate of screening for cervical cancer was even lower. In 2017, however, Hungary developed a voluntary colorectal screening to better address the development of cancer among populations.
  8. Hospitalization: A high amount of hospitalizations in Hungary have been the result of preventable health issues. Such a finding is indicative of primary care quality. In making improvements to primary care systems, the number of hospitalizations could decrease, resulting in greater prevention of deaths and potentially higher life expectancies.
  9. Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry: Approximately 50% of all government funds have gone towards driving the development of the pharmaceutical industry. A readjustment of spending towards making improvements in public procurement practices and encouraging generic medical prescriptions instead would allow for effective means of slowing the development of health conditions that only serve to aggravate life expectancy.
  10. The Impact of Health Worker: With more and more health care workers leaving Hungary to practice in other countries, many communities inevitably experience less access to means of improving health. In order to address this issue, the Hungarian government developed a type of residence scholarship program, in which medical residents received a monthly raise if they committed to public sector work while attaining their specialization. In addition, health professionals who were already working within the system experienced an increase of 20% in their salaries.

With the wide range of issues negatively impacting life expectancy in Hungary, the World Health Organization (WHO) has offered multiple constructive solutions. Due to the fact that Hungary instituted a more hospital-centralized health system, duration of stay, together with preventable hospitalization, have increased in prevalence. This has been evident in the lower effectiveness of primary care providers and an absence of adequate addressing of health issues in communities. In order to prevent the consequences associated with such problems, WHO has emphasized the significance of both improving community health care accessibility and the methods of primary health care workers. Consequently, despite issues with health systems in Hungary, the implementation of such solutions could result in improved health conditions and, ultimately, higher life expectancies.

– Aprile Bertomo
Photo: Flickr

top 10 facts about living conditions in Hungary

Hungary is a country of 9.8 million people located in central Europe. It makes up a portion of the EU’s southern border and is a major immigration hub. Hungary is one of the EU’s poorer countries, with a GDP in the lower third of all member states, though it is still better off than many of its central European and Balkan neighbors. Below are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Hungary.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Hungary

  1. Impressive work-life balance
    Unemployment is high in Hungary, with only 68 percent of people age 15 to 64 employed. Of those employed, 75 percent are men and 61 percent are women. However, the number of employees working very long hours is less than 4 percent–much lower than the United States, where 11 percent of employees work long hours.
  2. Standards of living are nearly the lowest in the EU
    In terms of GDP, Hungary is ranked 23rd out of the EU’s 28 member states, at 68 percent of the EU’s average. In first place for the region is Austria, which produces at roughly twice Hungary’s capacity. Another metric used to determine the welfare of the consumer, Actual Individual Consumption (AIC), places Hungary second-to-last.
  3. Habitat for Humanity is raising awareness on housing inequality
    In 2015, the Hungarian government ended housing support to nearly half a million impoverished residents. Prior to that, several hundred thousand Hungarians were already experiencing housing poverty. A Habitat for Humanity report from 2014 noted that more than half a million Hungarians lived with leaky roofs and/or moldy walls. Just under half of the population (44.6 percent) live in overcrowded flats, and 52 percent of Hungarians not living in major cities have access to a sanitary sewer.
  4. Hungary has universal health care, but the rate and efficacy of coverage are low
    Although Hungary has had universal health care coverage since the 1940s, it still ranks in the bottom third in the EU in terms of quality of coverage. This is partly due to low salaries—medical professionals cannot expect to make as much money in Hungary as they would in other EU member states. The main issue is a focus on curative care in hospitals, rather than preventative care in other medical facilities.
  5. Hungary has received significant foreign investment
    As of 2018, Hungary has an annual inflow of $4.3 billion per capita of foreign direct investment (FDI), a full recovery from the stagnation of the 2009-10 financial crisis. While this is partly since Hungary has an ideal geographical position for foreign investment, foreign investors have also shifted focus from the relatively poor textile and food processing industries to more lucrative industries such as wholesale, retail trade and automotive repair.
  6. Primary and secondary education enrollment rates are high
    For primary school students, enrollment has varied slightly over the past two decades, but has remained above 95 percent overall. At its highest, the enrollment rate was 97.2 percent in 2009, and at its lowest in 2012, at 95.7 percent. For adolescents in school, the statistics are similarly good: though there has been a slight rise since 2014 of the number of adolescents out of school, the overall number has hovered at less than 5 percent.
  7. Tertiary education needs investment
    Only 13 percent of 25-64 year-olds have a bachelor’s degree, with 9 percent of that population holding a master’s degree or equivalent. These statistics are low, but the individuals who possess these degrees are reaping the benefits. Studies have shown that postsecondary education credentials can potentially double one’s earnings in Hungary: a bachelor’s degree is worth a wage premium of 72 percent, while a master’s or above can earn 140 percent more than the country’s respective average salaries.
  8. Investments in higher education are underway
    An initiative led by the NGO HEInnovate to invest in higher education has been taking place over the last decade, spurred by a decline in institutional funding from the state. The focus of this initiative has been to utilize Hungary’s educational system to boost economic and socio-cultural development at the local and national levels. This has led to a marked increase in venture capital and start-up creation among academics and has caused strong domestic economic growth.
  9. Many institutions have been consolidated by the federal government
    Since his election in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has taken steps to consolidate hundreds of pro-government media outlets into a propaganda conglomerate. These actions have been received well by some but not as well by others — Orban enjoys far more support from individuals living in rural areas of Hungary than he does from individuals living in Hungary’s urban centers.
  10. Hungary’s location has made it a major migration hub for refugees in the past
    Since a section of Hungary’s border forms the external border of the European Union, the country has received many migrants in the past. However, in recent years Hungary has adopted a harder stance on immigration, which has drastically reduced the number of asylum seekers from the Middle East.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in Hungary demonstrate how the country remains at a crossroads in the European Union—geographically, economically and socially. While the country performs well in some areas, such as education and cost of living, it still faces more economic hardship than most other EU member states, and its status as a migration hub has led to entrenched xenophobia in the country’s political landscape.

– Rob Sprankle
Photo: Flickr

NGO Innovation AwardEach year the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) and the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) host more than 500 representatives of nongovernmental organizations around the world in their Annual Consultations in Geneva. These delegates debate refugee issues affecting both international and regional audiences as well as discuss new advocacy issues.

These annual consultations discuss data analytics as a pathway to better welfare systems; the implementation of the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees; the maintenance of moral, legal and safe aid to refugees; and UNHCR’s transition to an increasingly decentralized, local system.

Starting in 2018, the UNHCR has presented annual NGO innovation awards to celebrate NGOs they believe embody innovative practices required to truly integrate refugees into their new societies.

Honoring Partnerships and Connectivity in NGOs

Through the NGO Innovation Award, the UNHCR showcases exceptional NGOs with new kinds of solutions in refugee aid in order to inspire further innovation in the field. Recipient NGOs fall into two categories: inclusive partnerships and connectivity.

UNHCR describes previous winners of the partnership category as having people-centered, community-based, non-traditional and creative partnerships. Focusing on inclusion and diversity, these organizations drive solution-based, positive interventions in their environments.

In the category of connectivity, UNHCR looks for organizations that demonstrate creative and novel solutions to connectivity challenges of displaced people (e.g. literacy or access to finance).

The Winners Are Archetypes of Innovative NGOs

One of the 2018 winners was SINA Loketa (SINAL), a team of six Africans from different countries helping young refugees and marginalized youths become self-sustainable and self-actualized members of their (new) communities. Specifically, this NGO aims to help individuals from these two disadvantaged communities to design and launch social enterprises from their refugee camp and host community in Uganda.

Each year, SINA Loketa leads 90 new scholars through a personal and professional transformation based on project-based learning and hands-on experimentation. After being matched with a mentor, these individuals go through training covering team building, trauma healing, one-on-one life coaching, social innovation and entrepreneurship.

SINA Loketa envisions directly creating thousands of jobs by their startups and reducing Ugandan youth unemployment by three percent by 2028.

The second winner of the 2018 NGO Innovation award was Artemisszio, a charitable foundation based in Budapest, Hungary. It strives to build an open, tolerant society based on interculturality. Artemisszio focuses on young people disadvantaged by rural circumstances, incomplete schooling, Roma ethnicity and migration. This organization helps them integrate into the labor market and into society as a whole.

Artemisszio works with central members of these marginalized individual’s communities to create supportive relationships outside of the NGO. For example, the organization hosts classes for health care workers, educators, police and military personnel, about interculturality and stress management. Artemisszio also spearheads a multitude of other innovative outreach programs, including teaching at local primary and secondary schools.

An Archetype for Future NGO Innovation

The first two winners of the NGO Innovation Award, SINA Loketa and Artemisszio, engage disadvantaged members of society as well as society as a whole to create cohesion between them. Their multifaceted approach bridges what initially seems like a fixed divide between these two groups in both Hungarian and Ugandan communities.

UNHCR is calling for innovative solutions to issues that are constantly evolving. Each year they celebrate solutions that introduce refugees as positive influences in their new communities.

The answer to what is the NGO Innovation Award lies in the annual celebration of organizations that fill a need in their communities that had not been duly addressed previously. These two winners can serve as an inspiration for current and future NGOs to better their communities.

– Daria Locher
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Corruption in Hungary

After several subsequent electoral successes, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party have been accused of corrupt activity by the European Union and opposition parties in Hungary. Today, Hungary is ranked as 64 out of 180 countries in terms of corruption, ranking it “among the most corrupt Member States” in the EU. In the text below are 10 facts about corruption in Hungary.

10 Facts About Corruption in Hungary

  1. Orbán, along with the Christian Democratic People’s Party, holds a super-majority of 66 percent in Parliament, which allows them to amend the country’s constitution. To date, several amendments have passed that cement the power of Fidesz. Most notably, changes made to the electoral process reduce the chances of opposition parties winning seats. A new amendment modified the process so that 93 of the 199 seats are awarded proportionally based on the percentage of votes a party receives in the national election. The remaining 106 seats are won by receiving a plurality of votes in a local election, meaning that Fidesz can get 40 percent of the vote and still win the seat. Because opposition parties are divided, it is difficult for them to win these local elections.
  2. In March, the European People’s Party discussed suspending the Fidesz party from its bloc in the European Parliament amidst corruption allegations. This is not the first time that Orbán has been threatened with expulsion. However, no actions were taken at that time.
  3. Hungary regularly engages in unannounced “negotiated procedures,” which allow the government to strike a deal without going through an open competition. This has led some to accuse the government of mishandling EU funds. The 2014-2020 EU budget allocates €28 billion to Hungary, but critics worry that much of it will end up in the hands of Orbán’s family, friends and party loyalists. Adding to their concern, the prime minister’s office has sole authority in determining disbursement of funds. Elios Innovatív, owned by Orbán’s son-in-law István Tiborcz, had won a €40 million contract with the government in 2015. Lőrinc Mészáros, a longtime political ally of Orbán’s, has seen his wealth triple since Orbán’s election. He has become the second richest man in Hungary, owning 203 companies and receiving 83 percent of his companies’ profits from EU funds.
  4. From 2013 to 2019, Hungary’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index dropped from 56 to 87 in the world. The dramatic shift occurred when 476 private media companies simultaneously transferred ownership, without compensation, to the Central European Press and Media Foundation. Allies of the Prime Minister head the company, including István Varga, a former Fidesz member of Parliament, and István Bajkai, Orbán’s personal lawyer.
  5. The Fidesz Party declined to sign an agreement that would allow Central European University (CEU) to remain in Budapest. The university will now be forced to move its campus to Austria. CEU has several anti-corruption research arms, including the Anti-Corruption Research Group and the Center for Integrity in Business and Government. At multiple points, their reports were critical of the Fidesz government and accused it of corrupt activity. For example, one CEU research report wrote that the party engaged in “a constitutional coup d’état against an established democracy.”
  6. Through gerrymandering, Fidesz effectively limits opposition party participation. Gerrymandering ensures victory in what would otherwise be competitive districts. One study found that an opposition party needs to receive around 300,000 more votes than the Fidesz party needs in order to win a majority in the parliament.
  7. A 2016 poll reported that two-thirds of Hungarians regard their government as corrupt with 60 percent believing that corruption in Hungary goes to the top levels of government, including Orbán. This reflects a strong need for change, but the power accumulated through corruption has allowed Fidesz to continue to govern.
  8. Amid growing corruption concerns, an opposition politician named Akos Hadhazy gathered 680,000 signatures demanding that Hungary join the EU’s new anti-corruption arm, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office. Hadhazy specifies many of these 10 facts about corruption in Hungary, but he is especially concerned about the use of EU funds. Thus far, Fidesz refuses to join, citing concerns about overreach from Brussels. Hadhazy said, “Now it’s up to EU institutions to increase pressure on the Hungarian government unless they want European taxpayers to finance a regime that openly works against the EU.”
  9. Transparency International Hungary (TIH), an anti-corruption NGO, considers young people to be essential to combating corruption. According to TIH, 90 percent of Hungarians ages 15-29 believe that corruption is present in their politics. However, they also find that only 25 percent of young people believe that reporting government corruption will be taken seriously. TIH hopes to mobilize the youth in their fight against corruption.
  10. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee provides free legal assistance to detainees, victims of police brutality and jailed protestors or activists. The group helped more than 1,400 people in 2018. From 2008 to 2018, it trained more than 4,000 lawyers, judges and states officers. The NGO describes itself as “one of the few remaining voices that publicly oppose attacks on civil society and the further democratic backsliding of Hungary.” Hungarian tax laws allow its citizens to donate 1 percent of their income tax to a nonprofit of their choosing. NGOs, including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, encourage donations in order to continue their work. Through this, Hungarians may express their support for organizations working to combat corruption in their country.

According to the World Bank, Hungary has a poverty rate of about 15 percent, meaning almost 1.5 million Hungarians live in poverty. These 10 facts about corruption in Hungary threaten academia, the media, NGOs and several democratic institutions. This, in turn, threatens the well-being of Hungarian civil society, which is trying its best to create a more equitable and just Hungary.

– Kyle Linder
Photo: Flickr

Criminalization of Human Rights Work
In June, the Hungarian government passed a series of laws titled “Stop Soros.” The laws advocate for the criminalization of human rights work as they make the act of aiding undocumented immigrants illegal. Breaking this new law will result in up to a year imprisonment.

Hungarians have been made to fear immigrants overwhelming the country and changing its culture. Hungary’s action is in response to a new European Union (EU) migrant relocation plan. This plan would see the spread of more than 150,000 asylum seekers throughout EU member states, thus easing the strain on countries such as Italy and Greece.

Hungary is not the first country to legislate the criminalization of human rights work, however, it demonstrates the struggles NGOs face and the challenges that are being met across Europe in the face of the immigration crisis. It also substantiates the growing tensions between governments and the negative sentiment that groups have toward immigrants.

The Impact of the Criminalization of Human Rights Work

The act of aiding the victims of human rights violations is being delegitimized. By criminalizing aid to migrants, it deters people in need of assistance and those seeking to assist. The fear of prosecution is imminent. This further alienates the two populations, natives and refugees, and encourages the close-minded views of natives.

Violence against human rights workers has been on the rise. In 2016, 288 aid workers were targeted for violence, resulting in the death of 101 human rights defenders. In 2017, more than 300 human right workers were killed in 27 countries. The rise in targeted attacks against those speaking up against human right violations must not go unnoticed, yet many of the perpetrators go unpunished.  

A Message of Intolerance

The criminalization of human rights work also sends a message to society of intolerance and creates an environment for xenophobic sentiments to fester. Hungary passed the law that largely targets immigrants from Muslim countries, such as Iraq and Syria. In 2017, Hungary rejected 2,417 asylum seeker applicants while granting protection to only 321 people.

Hungary fears the dilution of its Christian values. A fenced border was constructed to ensure no illegal entry into the country. There seems to be no regard for the safety of the migrants and refugees who are fleeing their homes not out of choice, but out of necessity. Hungary is not ready to become a multi-faith and multi-cultural country.

European Response

EU countries and NGOs have implored Hungary to not pass laws in contradiction to European law. In regards to Hungary, the European director of Amnesty International, Gauri Van Gulik, stated, “It is a new low point in an intensifying crackdown on civil society, and it is something we will resist every step of the way.” Others have voiced similar concerns. The primary solution to laws such as these being passed is to push back against institutional intolerance, which has been steadily on the rise among European countries toward refugees and migrants.

One of the major challenges to human rights is the lack of value and recognition given to it. There must be a promotion of a culture that publicly acknowledges the role of human right activists. The great increase in immigrants to Europe has tested the humane response to conflict and suffering. This may not be the last example of the criminalization of human rights work.

– Trelawny Robinson
Photo: Flickr

Hungary_refugee

Though the European refugee crisis has largely faded from the international media’s spotlight, thousands of asylum-seekers continue to enter Europe by any means possible with the hopes of starting a new life. In the face of this ongoing humanitarian crisis, the Hungarian grassroots organization Migration Aid has harnessed the power of social media as a means of delivering aid and guidance to thousands of refugees.

Migration Aid was founded in June 2015, at the height of the European refugee crisis, by a handful of concerned citizens in Budapest that desired to help people in Hungary. The organization originated as a closed group on Facebook, which was utilized as a virtual planning board for orchestrating aid delivery, which included food and supplies distribution. The organization also consisted of various specialty groups with coordinators assigned to handle legal matters, storage, logistics and any other issues. Migration Aid set up centers in the railway stations of Budapest and the surrounding area and quickly grew to over 600 volunteers.

Two years have elapsed since the group’s inception, during which time Migration Aid has helped feed, clothe and provide direction to thousands of refugees, but the situation faced by asylum-seekers in Hungary remains extremely tenuous. Hungary’s geographic location has forced the country into a major role in the crisis, as it is a popular by-way for migrants hoping to settle further afield from the Middle East in Northern and Western Europe. Between January and August of 2017, 2,491 asylum applications were registered in Hungary alone.

The European Union has endeavored to establish a comprehensive and effective means of responding to what has become the largest global displacement crisis since World War II. In September 2015, the European Commission announced a minimum quota of refugees that each EU member country would be expected to host, with the intention of fairly distributing the burden of providing for the record numbers of migrants streaming into the continent. It was also in September 2015 that Hungary closed its borders to refugees, and began strictly limiting their movement throughout the country.

Furthermore, Hungarian officials have resisted compliance with the quotas and policies made obligatory for all members of the EU. In March 2017, the Hungarian government implemented a law requiring that all refugees whose asylum applications were pending be housed in detention centers. When it was discovered that the housing units available at these detention centers were comprised of shipping containers and that refugees were being forced to pay for their stay, the United Nations refugee agency urged the E.U. to stop sending asylum seekers to Hungary, declaring this mandatory detention a violation of international law that guarantees people access to asylum.

Additionally, Viktor Mihály Orbán, a Hungarian politician, petitioned the European Commission President to exempt Hungary from the migrant relocation quotas, a request which was denied and earned the Hungarian government a lawsuit for failure to comply.

In the face of the conditions now being imposed on refugees, Migration Aid has developed new strategies to help people in Hungary. Recognizing the need for information dissemination pertaining to the new laws and regulations, the organization developed a new application named InfoAid, which seeks to provide information to asylum-seekers in their native language. According to Migration Aid’s website, the InfoAid app seeks to provide the following types of information:

  • what rules apply to them
  • where they can receive care
  • what is going on in transport
  • where there is safe drinking water in Hungary
  • where and how they should buy train tickets
  • where they can receive medical care
  • how they should collect the waste they generate
  • where, when and why they have to register and what exactly it involves

The InfoAid app supplies information in English, Arabic, Urdu and Farsi. Migration Aid is currently seeking the help of volunteer translators so that they can keep up with the need for translated information, as well as expand their offerings to include Greek and Pashto.

Thanks to internet technology, anyone around the world with relevant language skills wondering how to help people in Hungary can act as an invaluable source of aid by donating their time and skills. More information about volunteering can be found on Migration Aid’s official website, or on the Facebook page.

For individuals desirous of contributing but who lack the language skills required to volunteer, Migration Aid also accepts monetary donations, which are fundamental to the organization’s ability to help people in Hungary. Now more than ever, the innovative and progressive efforts that this organization continues to make on behalf of refugees in Hungary is a tremendous source of hope and comfort to many.

Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in HungaryHungary is a landlocked European country sandwiched between Romania and Austria. With a population of about 10 million, Hungary is a relatively large country that is known for its tourist attractions.

Although most Hungarians are not drastically poor, 14.6 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. Compared to the European Union average rate of 17.2 percent, Hungarians are faring slightly better. However, 44 percent of Hungarians cannot afford to pay for all of their basic resources, well above the EU average of 19.5 percent.

The life expectancy from birth in Hungary is 76 years, a relatively high number when taking into consideration that a large portion of the population is deprived of some of the basic necessities for life.

Here are some examples of the most common diseases in Hungary that affect its residents.

1. Cardiovascular diseases

Diseases related to the heart are among the most common causes of death in Hungary. Approximately 60,000 people die from cardiovascular illnesses annually. It is not surprising that high systolic blood pressure and cholesterol are also high-risk factors in Hungary.

The most common of the various cardiovascular diseases in Hungary is ischemic heart disease. Strokes, myocarditis and other cardiovascular diseases have been decreasing within the past few years, though.

2. Cancer

As in America, cancer is one of the most common diseases in Hungary. This chronic illness makes up about 27 percent of the non-communicable diseases in Hungary, just behind cardiovascular issues.

The most prevalent type of cancers for Hungarians are those in the respiratory system: tracheal, bronchus and lung cancer. Deaths caused by pancreatic cancer have risen 32 percent since 1990 and kill about 20 people out of 100,000 annually.

3. Diarrhea and lower respiratory diseases

The most common and fatal communicable diseases in Hungary are diarrhea and lower respiratory illnesses. These infections account for about 68% of the total communicable diseases in Hungary.

Although diarrheal diseases have only taken the lives of 1.2 people out of 100,000 annually, the problem is still significant and should be solved. Many other infectious diseases like meningitis and tetanus have decreased dramatically.

Sydney Missigman

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Causes of Poverty in HungaryThe latest official statistics that can be found regarding poverty in Hungary are from 2015 by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH). According to their definition of the poverty line, 35 percent of the Hungarian population were living below the poverty line in 2015. More recent statistics have not been released due to a controversy over the KSH’s definition of poverty. However, by the United Nations’ standards, 46.6 percent of Hungarians in 2014 were impoverished, living on less than $300 a month.

There are three leading causes of poverty in Hungary that persist today:

  1. The price of real estate in Hungary is high and still rising, considering the devaluation of Hungarian currency. After Sweden, Hungary has the second-fastest rising real estate prices. The average Hungarian family spends $465 a month on rent and utilities alone, leaving little remaining for other bills and necessary items. Also, rent is only affordable for the average family in cities where it is near impossible to find work. Due to the high price of real estate, the average family with two children can hardly save $30 a month.
  2. Unemployment in Hungary remains a problem, though the number of unemployed Hungarians is seemingly decreasing. The current unemployment rate in Hungary is 9.3 percent, which is an improvement compared to earlier years. However, this rate does not take into account the approximately 300,000 people who are employed but receive no employment benefits. This is due to the Hungarian Work Plan that was launched in 2011, which forces the unemployed into employment programs. These employment programs pay a maximum of $200 a month, preventing any forward mobility. Keeping in mind that Hungary ranks eighth internationally regarding work hours, the employed and unemployed alike are both on the verge of poverty.
  3. Private debt is also largely responsible for poverty in Hungary. The government of Hungary offers $39,000 in loans to families with children – which many families accept but cannot afford to pay back. There are many Hungarian families that end up in a circle of debt, in which they accumulate more and more debt they cannot afford to pay off. The rapid devaluation of Hungarian currency adds to this cycle as it has caused private debt to dramatically increase.

The Takeaway

Addressing these causes of poverty in Hungary is necessary in order to help impoverished Hungarians. Approaching these problems effectively will take reforms from the Hungarian government as well as outside assistance. The programs currently being enacted have had major effects on reducing the rates of poverty in Hungary.  Thus, these efforts should continued to be pursued by the Hungarian government and the NGOs enacting them.

Haley Hurtt

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