Visegrad plays hot potato with Ukrainian Roma refugees

Meanwhile, counterarguments appearing in Hungarian language media suggest that their passport country, Hungary, is expected to provide them with the same safety net as other citizens. Yet, according to RFE sources, the Hungarian government is not doing so, information also confirmed by Roma activists previously to EURACTIV. [Shutterstock/Sid0601]

Many Roma Ukrainian refugees with dual Hungarian citizenship have been shuttling between Visegrád capitals as governments refuse to provide these families with the same aid as other Ukrainians with a single passport.

The Czech Republic is experiencing an influx of Roma people with dual Hungarian-Ukrainian citizenship. Still, the interior ministry has said that these people are not entitled to financial assistance as they are not fleeing from war.

Meanwhile, many Roma families travelling to the country are stuck in Prague’s central train station as nobody wants to provide them with decent accommodation.

“Watching small children sleeping on the floor is completely unacceptable,” Jaroslav Miko, founder of the Czechs Help (Češi pomáhají) NGO told daily Právo. “We are therefore transporting many Roma people to other European countries at our own expense. No one there addresses whether they have dual citizenship,” Miko explained. The organisation transports the people most often to Germany, Norway or Ireland.

Béla Rácz, a Roma activist from the 1 Hungary Initiative, has warned that many Roma were previously granted Hungarian citizenship so they could vote in the Hungarian elections. Because of this, they are now unable to receive aid, even though they are fleeing the war.

In 2011, Fidesz introduced a new simplified path to acquire Hungarian citizenship for ethnic Hungarians living outside the country, making it easier for many Hungarian Roma living in Ukraine to receive a second passport.

Czech Interior Minister Vít Rakušan has already warned his Hungarian and Ukrainian counterparts about the problem and asked for assistance. Rakušan claimed that organised crime might be behind the Roma influx from East to West without providing any evidence for his suspicions.

“I have asked the Ukrainian minister whether the Ukrainian police could look into suspicions of organised crime in the Transcarpathian region (western Ukrainian region bordering Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania), from where people might be being sent across the EU border in an organised manner, to obtain benefits that they are not entitled to in the Czech Republic,” the interior minister added. According to him, the Ukrainian minister took this warning seriously and promised that the police would address this problem.

International trains on the Warsaw-Prague-Bratislava-Budapest line have carried many Roma families from Ukraine in all directions for weeks, ​the Hungarian service of Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported on Wednesday (18 May).

According to the daily, in Bratislava, anyone arriving from Ukraine can get a day’s food and a roof over their head at the station, even without a passport. After one day, however, the registration procedure starts, and they will be accommodated in regular accommodation. Volunteers told RFE that Roma families travelling by train often stop for this one day but skip going to the accommodation where they are often not welcome.

According to activists, the same trend, though not on the same scale, can be observed in Warsaw.

Some critics argue that EU citizens (in this case, dual Hungarian-Roma citizens) are not entitled to temporary protection.

Meanwhile, counterarguments appearing in Hungarian language media suggest that their passport country, Hungary, is expected to provide them with the same safety net as other citizens. Yet, according to RFE sources, the Hungarian government is not doing so, information also confirmed by Roma activists previously to EURACTIV.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian interior ministry said “the protection of the interests of Hungarian citizens … is ensured by the consular service” but stressed that this was not the same as “protection resulting from refugee or asylum status.”

One legal interpretation, reflected in the comments of the interior ministry, would suggest the state does not carry more obligations towards these Roma families with dual citizenship than it does towards tourists of their country abroad.

When asked whether Hungary will accept Hungarian refugees from Ukraine and provide assistance, the interior ministry in Budapest replied on Friday (13 May) that it could “not interpret the question” as “Hungarian citizens have the right of free movement and residence within the European Union, which is granted to citizens” of the bloc.

“Hungarian society is already distrustful and dismissive of various minority groups and the poor. As a result, the Roma who have fled from Ukraine – often with Hungarian mother tongues and even Hungarian citizenship – find it harder to get help than even Ukrainians,” Zádori Zsolt, the press office at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee told EURACTIV.

According to the human rights watchdog, refugees with Hungarian citizenship have been growing impatient and increasingly dissatisfied.

Meanwhile, RFE received reports that the Hungarian authorities are trying to persuade Roma to move on to other countries, information that the interior ministry denied.

The EU’s Temporary Protection Directive of 2001 states that EU countries are obligated to take back people they have previously granted protection but have attempted to move on to another member state.

However, the Council’s implementing decision of March 2022, which set out the conditions for the temporary protection of Ukrainian refugees, “took that out of the text. I would not be surprised if this was done under pressure from Hungary and Poland,” the paper quoted professor Boldizsár Nagy at Central European University as saying.

In 2015, the Hungarian government reportedly transported thousands of refugees to the Austrian border without any registration or data collection so that it would not have to take them back later.

The move to strike the ability of EU countries to send back Ukrainian refugees to the member state from which they came could also ensure there is no disproportionate burden placed on frontline countries.

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