All you need to know about Hungary's refugee referendum

All you need to know about Hungary's refugee referendum
By Chris Harris with Rita Palfi
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Hungary is holding a referendum over the EU’s controversial refugee quotas on Sunday, October 2.


Hungary is holding a referendum over the EU’s controversial refugee quotas on Sunday, October 2.

What is the referendum question?

Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?

How did this referendum come about?

It has its roots in the EU’s migrant and refugee crisis – which saw more than a million people arrive in Europe in 2015.

Hungary was considered one of the countries worst-hit by the influx.

In a bid to help, Brussels proposed relocating 160,000 refugees from Hungary, Italy and Greece to elsewhere in the European Union.

Hungary PM Viktor Orbán refused to take part and is challenging the policy in the European Court.

The referendum refers to EU plans to establish a permanent way of relocating refugees from countries who receive a disproportionate number of asylum applications. The proposals could also see member states fined 250,000 euros for each refugee they refuse to take.

How controversial are refugees and migrants in Hungary?

Very, if we are to believe a survey by the US-based Pew Research Center.

It revealed 76 percent of those surveyed in Hungary thought refugees would increase the likelihood of terrorism, while 82 percent thought they would be a burden on the country because they would take jobs and social security benefits.

Hungary had around 175,000 asylum applications in 2015 – the most per 100,000 of local population in the EU.

However, it is open to question how many of those have been or will be accepted.

Hungary made 3,420 asylum decisions in 2015, approving around 15 percent, one of the lowest rates in the EU.

Why is Hungary against the relocation scheme, given it is likely to see refugees moved out of the country?

Brussels’ plan to relocate refugees from the countries worst-hit by the migrant crisis included moving 54,000 from Hungary to elsewhere in the EU.

Which begs the question, why did Hungary refuse to take part?

Political analyst Péter Krekó told Euronews Budapest thinks Hungary is not a destination for refugees, rather a transit country, so it would not have benefited as much from the EC’s initiative as say Germany or Sweden.

Figures show (see above section) Hungary had a high number of asylum applications in 2015, but only a small proportion of decisions went in favour of actually granting refugee status.

Who is campaigning for what?


The Hungarian government (Fidesz-KDNP) is campaigning for ‘no’, as well as opposition far-right party Jobbik.



Only the Hungarian Liberal Party (which has one MP out of the 199 seats in the Hungarian National Assembly) is campaigning for ‘yes’, saying it is ‘a yes to Europe’.

Don’t go to vote

The Socialist Party and Democratic coalition (leftist opposition parties) are trying to convince people not to vote, saying the question makes no sense.

“We think it is politically right that this referendum won’t be a valid one. This would send a clear message to everyone: that people don’t buy this populist game that creates tension,” Gyula Molnár, leader of the Hungarian Socialist Party told Euronews.


Invalid votes

Twenty-two Hungarian NGOs and a satirical political outfit, the Two-tailed Dog Party, teamed up to campaign for invalid votes.

Their campaign – the second most expensive – is designed to make fun of the government’s efforts to persuade Hungarians to vote ‘no’.

“I think it is good to show that Hungary is not the same as its government, but is full of nice, friendly and normal people, even if the government is not showing this side of Hungary,” Gergő Kovács, the leader of the party told Euronews.

What is the likely outcome?

The weakness of the opposition means it is highly likely the government-backed ‘no’ campaign will win, Krekó said.


A more pertinent question is whether or not the referendum will be deemed ‘valid’.

Hungarian law says at least 50 percent of those eligible to vote have to take part, otherwise the referendum is invalid. Latest polls suggest this figure will be reached.

But, in any case the referendum will not have any legal basis, added Krekó, because under EU treaties, Brussels already has the power to impose policy such as refugee quotas.

What impact will a valid ‘no’ vote have?

Krekó says Brussel’s bid to impose refugee quotas on EU states is looking more and more unlikely, meaning Hungary’s referendum may end up having little impact.

So why has the government poured so much public money into the campaign?


Krekó thinks Orbán sees the poll as a chance to further weaken domestic political opposition – which has been divided over the referendum – ahead of elections in 2018.

Orbán also wants to use the poll to become a figurehead within the EU, according to Krekó.

“I think in his vision he wants to be a leader of Europe, officially or unofficially,” he said. “He has a mission in the European Union, to transform it and make it turn away from federalism and human rights based approach to and create an EU that is based on classic European values: nation state, Christianity and family.”

All views: who is saying what about the referendum?

Hungary PM Viktor Orbán: “We cannot let Brussels place itself above the law. We can let them force us to import their failed migration policy.”

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltán Kovács: “We are not targeting a particular group of refugees. However, the Orbán government differs sharply from some other European governments. We do not look to immigration as a source of cheap labour or a solution to demographic problems.”


Todor Gardos, a researcher at Amnesty International, said: “This referendum cannot and must not distract from the fact that Hungary, like every other country, has the responsibility to take its equal share of refugees in response to the world’s biggest refugee crisis.

“Refugees in Hungary must be afforded the protection guaranteed them in Hungarian Constitution, rather than being faced with razor wire fences, push-backs and repeated violations of international law.”

Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission: “The result of a referendum on a future initiative or decision of the European Parliament, the Council or the Commission held in a member state is as such neither binding for the EU institutions nor can it affect the obligations of that member state under Union law.”

Gábor Vona, leader of Jobbik: “If [the referendum] it is valid, a law or the constitution will have to be amended. If it is invalid, Brussels will be given a document showing that Hungarians did not reject in the legal sense the introduction of quotas. This is a huge danger that stems from Orbán’s irresponsibility. And in this case the prime minister should resign.”

What impact has the referendum had on life in Hungary?

People don’t feel like the atmosphere has been seriously changed because of the quota referendum, _writes Rita Palfi, a Hungarian journalist at Euronews.


Actually a lot of people are not really sure what the referendum is all about. Polls are showing that even people voting against the government are rather satisfied with its migrant politics. It feels like Hungarians have a ‘new picture of an enemy’. According to Nézőpont Intézet’s poll, 68 percent of Hungarians are satisfied with the way the Hungarian government is dealing with the illegal border crossing, even through 51 percent of people sympathizing with the opposition parties are supporting the government on this subject.

According to Publicus Intézet (ordered by weekly newspaper Vasárnapi Hírek) negative feelings grew against refugees since last September. Now less Hungarians (44 percent down from 52 percent) think that migrants should be treated with more humanity. Sixty-three percent think it is not our duty to help refugees, one year ago 64 percent said that is our duty to help. According to the poll around 67 percent are more against refugees, and about 18 percent show solidarity.

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