Inter-State Migration Debate Sec. Orbán, Pro-migration association. Leader Kováts and economist Caplan


Global migration, the Hungarian government’s migration policies, communication and border protection, were on the menu of a public debate tenuous Tuesday. On behalf of the government, it was Secretary of State and Political Director of the Prime Minister, Balázs Orbán, who met with the head of Menedék (Shelter) – Association for Migrants, András Kováts. Additionally, economist Bryan Caplan, author of the pro-migration book Open borders: the science and ethics of immigration, also joined the conversation, albeit virtually.

Menedék’s leader Kováts immediately started the debate by confronting Orbán (who is only a namesake to the prime minister) with immigration officials. Despite government rhetoric, the number of foreigners applying for a work permit for the first time has increased eightfold in the past five years.

Kováts also said it was “particularly disgusting” that when tens of thousands of Hungarians lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of non-EU foreign nationals working with permits rose from 82,000 to 87 000, most from Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Ukraine and the Philippines.

From left to right: Orbán State Secy, Moderator Szabolcs Vörös, Head of Menedék Kováts and Caplan onscreen. Image by Tamás Kovács / MTI

In response, Balázs Orbán said that the number of foreigners employed in Hungary – around 230,000 people – is still the lowest in the EU, and that these people are all in Hungary legally. He believes that there is no social discourse on this because the political debate is not focused on them, but on the hundreds of thousands of people who wanted to enter the country through the southern borders in 2015.

He also underlined the importance of the messages that transit and host countries send to countries where migrants generally come from. He noted that migration can also be a political weapon that can weaken affected countries. For this reason, he thinks that Hungary should resist the EU.

Responding to claims about the tone and controversial messages of the government’s communication, Orbán argued that “this is a clear and simplistic message, but it is necessary to influence social movements at a deep level, that is why the government cannot let go. in this tone.

“I accept all the criticisms that Hungarian public life and political advertising have become simplistic. Who is more responsible, the media, the economic actors or the politicians, it is an interesting debate ”, he added.

In an attempt to sum up the government’s perspective on migration, Orbán said: “Hungary is a great place, we understand if you want to come here. If you want to come illegally, we won’t let you in. If you want to come legally, we’ll decide if you can come.

Orbán vs. Caplan

Caplan joined in the second part of the discussion which, unlike the first part, instead focused on migration policies in theory.


The book by economics professor at George Mason University makes a case for unrestricted immigration, apparently using a clear and conversational tone, exhaustive research and vibrant illustrations. He argues that opening all borders could eradicate absolute poverty in the world and usher in a thriving global economy, which would greatly benefit mankind.

Such a statement, of course, falls into the category of science fiction in Hungary, even if the current political situation is ignored, Orbán started the debate.

Caplan, however, responded by saying that in 1980 it was also “science fiction” to think that communism would one day end in Hungary, but it still is. And in response to the argument that if someone really supports the full opening of the borders, why does he lock the door to his house when he comes home? He said the issue was not about ownership, but whether one can use his property as he sees fit.

Caplan pointed out that Hungarians who move to other EU member states also give their host countries an economic advantage.

Orbán, however, said a distinction should be made between legal and illegal migration. Regarding mass immigration, he evoked the fall of the Roman Empire: after they had given up protecting their borders, it was not the coming Enlightenment but the Middle Ages.

“It’s paranoid to think that everyone is against us and wants to attack us,” said Caplan, who estimates that the economic benefits of immigration can run into the trillions of dollars a year, while the downsides are minimal.

The arrival of immigrants, favoring a cheaper labor force, lowers wages and housing prices also tend to fall in neighborhoods that become migrant neighborhoods, so that local residents are not necessarily enthusiastic about migration, said Balázs Orbán, arguing that illegal immigrants are currently looking for economic opportunities. , not fleeing persecution, and their mass admission does not pay off economically; instead, they are a burden on the social protection system.

He said that migration is not something beneficial on the other side either: “Brain drain is not a positive phenomenon, as talented citizens leave their home countries to increase GDP elsewhere. .

Caplan said immigrants would find jobs without problems because “the laws of the free market work well.” He claimed that many people fear liberalization of immigration because Eastern Europe still has strong socialist reflexes and thought patterns inherited from the past.

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“This book is a provocation,” Orbán concluded, also pointing out that there are different models of immigration, different countries, and therefore the problem is complex.

The manager of Menedék meanwhile drew a parallel between the book and government policies, arguing that the government’s position that immigration can only be bad is also an extreme position at the other end of the scale. .

featured image illustration via MTI / EPA / Sedat Suna


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