Ministry asks schools to provide data on migrant children

August 9, 2016

Just exactly how many of them are migrants?

For the second year since the start of the migration crisis, the Ministry of Human Resources is asking headmasters all over the country to provide data on the number of “migrant children” in their classrooms. According to information obtained by Hungarian print daily Magyar Nemzet, headmasters have two days to comply. However, they were not told which students are actually considered migrants or what the purpose of the request was.

Wrong by definition

The use of the word “migrant” is particularly worrying, as by definition everybody is considered a migrant who has a foreign nationality and currently resides in Hungary. According to official statistics of the Central Statistical Office (Központi Statisztikai Hivatal – KSH), the number of migrants in Hungary was around 148,400 on January 1st, 2016. They mostly come from neighboring countries, including Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine, but there is also a high percentage of German nationals.

On the other hand, with the start of the migration crisis, the Hungarian government has been using the term “migrant” in a completely different context: to define asylum-seekers arriving to the territory of Hungary either in a legal way through transit zones or illegally through the razor-wire fence on the southern border.

Bolstering propaganda

László Mendrey, president of the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers (Pedagógusok Demokratikus Szakszervezete -PDSZ), does not rule out the possibility that the government is collecting the data to bolster anti-migrant propaganda.

“Last year, they needed the data to help the integration of migrant children. If that is the case this year, it’s an honorable idea,” he told Magyar Nemzet, but added that the other version is also possible.

The letters to the headmasters were sent by the national government’s centralized education authority KLIK on behalf of the Ministry of Human Resources. Every school is required to send data on the number of migrant children enrolled in the 2015-2016 school year, as well as the number of those who have left.  It does not required them to submit the names of the migrants.

Subject: data collection on migrants. The letter was sent to every school in Hungary. Source: Kettős Mérce

Even so, many headmasters don’t agree with the idea and some are outright refusing to send data to the ministry. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one Budapest headmaster called the request “outrageous” and said he did not understand the basis for differentiating among his students.

Another headmaster admitted he would not comply either, as he does not see how such a collection of data would be of use to his school.

Biggest challenge

Last year, former state secretary of secondary education, Rózsa Hoffman called the schooling of asylum-seeker children the biggest challenge of Hungarian education. Since then, not many things have changed, especially when it comes to unaccompanied minors.

After arriving to the country, minors traveling on their own are housed in the children’s home for orphans in Fót, just north of Budapest. Last year 3500 foreign children were brought here, but since the institute is too crowded, other orphanages were opened to underaged refugees and asylum seekers in Hódmezővásárhely and Budapest. According to statistics, only one out of ten children remain.  Most are waiting to be reunited with their parents or taken to another EU member country.

The children's home in Fót
The children’s home in Fót serves as a temporary home for many migrant children

Unfortunately, their situation is often exploited by the Hungarian government to generate anti-migrant sentiment.  The Hungarian State News Agency  (MTI) is awash with reports of fights breaking out between the children, and last week, undersecretary at the Ministry of Human Resources Bence Rétvári, said young asylum-seekers may be unwittingly part of a human-trafficking operation.  In an interview given to Hungarian state radio channel Kossuth Rádió, the politician claimed Fót was being used by human traffickers as a kind of way station for transporting young migrants to Western Europe.

Residents of the town are not happy about young asylum-seekers either. When the government announced plans to expand the capacities, the mayor of Fót said the decision was a complete disaster.

Town leaders claimed they were not previously informed of the plans to house more under-aged asylum-seekers.   Meanwhile residents of Fót have been complaining about the behavior of young migrants for months. Interestingly, nobody at the town council knows how many under-age asylum seekers are staying at Fót, as not even Hungarian MPs are allowed to visit such facilities.