Fact-check: One million Ukrainian refugees are not to blame for Hungary's record-high inflation

February 03. 2023. – 03:32 PM


Fact-check: One million Ukrainian refugees are not to blame for Hungary's record-high inflation
J.D. Vance delivers his victory speech after being elected Senator on November 8, 2022 – Photo: Andrew Spear / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP


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A US senator tweeted a few days ago that Hungary has taken in one million Ukrainian refugees, and claimed this was the reason for the country having the highest inflation rate in the EU, at 25%. There are, however, several problems with his statement.

The Financial Times published a detailed article entitled “Hungary’s soaring inflation puts squeeze on Viktor Orbán” on 29 January. In the article, the authoritative British business daily presented a striking graph showing that while inflation has risen throughout the EU over the past two years, Hungary has significantly exceeded the EU average in recent months. While rising inflation in Hungary reached as high as 25 percent in December, the EU average has reversed and now stands at just 10.4 percent.

The article and graph caught the eye of American conservative publicist and activist Avik Roy, who shared it on his Twitter profile.

“Natcons keep insisting that Orbán’s Hungary is a haven of pro-family public policy. I’m not sure many families can prosper in a country with 25% inflation.”

- Roy commented on the graph.

Roy's tweet has reached over 300,000 people on Twitter in the last few days, including Ohio Senator J.D. Vance. Vance, a Republican Party politician, was elected Senator last November with the support of Donald Trump. Vance gained national prominence with his book on the decline of the American working class, "Hillbilly Elegy – A memoir of a family and culture in crisis".

The senator is one of Viktor Orbán's most important fans overseas. In recent years, he has campaigned on several occasions for the US to follow Hungary's example. From the Orbán government's family policy measures to the "child protection" referendum about "banning LGBTQ propaganda" from Hungarian schools, he has been a leading voice in the US when it comes to praising the Orbán government's policies.

Then, on 30 January, Vance shared Avik Roy's tweet with his 345,000 followers and added the following comment to the post:

“Hungary took in a million refugees from Ukraine, something Mr. flag-in-the-bio probably supports. Now he’s dunking on a country of 10 million for the predictable supply shortages.”

Vance's tweet had reached more than 450,000 people by the time this article was published, and Balázs Orbán, the political director of the Hungarian Prime Minister, thanked the senator for his support in a separate post.

But there are several problems with Vance's post. The post makes two main claims:

  1. Hungary has taken in one million refugees from Ukraine
  2. The one million Ukrainian refugees are responsible for Hungary's 26-year record inflation rate of 25 percent, which is two and a half times the EU average.

The first statement is relatively easy to check. The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) maintains a database on which countries have taken in Ukrainian refugees since the start of the war and how many. The data is obtained directly from the authorities of the country concerned.

According to the most recent data from the Hungarian authorities, as of 31 January 2023, 33,603 Ukrainian citizens have applied for asylum in Hungary since the outbreak of the war, which is only 3.36 percent of the 1 million refugees mentioned by Vance. Since the outbreak of the war, a total of 2 ,151, 419 people have crossed the Hungarian-Ukrainian border from Ukraine, but the vast majority of those crossing the border have only passed through Hungary.

It is important to mention in connection with these figures that Ukrainian-Hungarian dual nationals do not need to apply for refugee status. Therefore, there is no publicly available information on how many Ukrainian Hungarians are currently residing in Hungary. In fact, the Hungarian government is also hiding the data on how many Ukrainians have Hungarian citizenship at all.

In the last Ukrainian census, held more than twenty years ago (2001), 156 566 Ukrainian citizens declared themselves to be Hungarian. However, there is no information on how many people who declared themselves Hungarian lived in Ukraine immediately before the beginning of the war and how many of them have applied for Hungarian citizenship since 2010.

If, however, following the trends of the past half century, we assume that the Hungarian population of Ukraine was around 150,000 before the outbreak of the war, and assume that all of them were granted dual citizenship and all of them fled to Hungary after the outbreak of the war, Hungary would still have accepted less than 200,000 Ukrainian refugees total. So the 1 million Ukrainian refugees mentioned by Vance is completely unfounded.

Vance's second claim is that Ukrainian refugees are to blame for the 26-year record high inflation in Hungary. This can be refuted by a simple comparison. According to the official data, the number of Ukrainian refugees Hungary has officially taken in is equivalent to 0.34 percent of its population. But even if all Ukrainian-Hungarian dual citizens had fled to Hungary, the figure would not be higher than 2% of the population.

By contrast, Poland, which has a population of 38 million, has taken in a total of 1 563 386 Ukrainian refugees since the outbreak of the war. This represents more than 4% of the country's population. But while Hungary has an inflation rate of 25 per cent, Poland's inflation rate is only 15.3 per cent, according to Eurostat. So if the large number of refugees were indeed the reason for a shortage of goods and inflation in Hungary, then inflation should be even higher in Poland.

We explained more about the reasons behind Hungary's 26-year high inflation in this article. According to data from the Hungarian Central Statistical Office (KSH), the main contributor to the inflation being two and a half times the EU average was the rise in food prices.

We wrote to J.D. Vance's staff and asked on what sources the senator based his statement about Hungary having taken in one million Ukrainian refugees and why he thought they were responsible for the 25% inflation in Hungary, but we haven't received a reply by the time of publishing this article.

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