Anti-migrant sentiment strongest in Eastern European countries

Anti-migrant sentiment strongest in Eastern European countries
Irish Naval personnel from the LÉ Eithne (P31) rescuing migrants as part of Operation Triton. / Irish Defence Forces
By bne IntelliNews September 6, 2017

Macedonia, Montenegro, Hungary and several other Eastern European countries are the least keen nations in the world when it comes to welcoming migrants, a new survey shows. 

The results were revealed as a ruling by the European Court of Justice that Hungary and Slovakia must abide by Brussels’ compulsory migrant relocation deal sparked an angry response from Hungarian officials. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto went so far as to call the September 6 rejection of an appeal by Budapest and Bratislava a political "rape of European law and values”. 

The Migrant Acceptance Index created by pollster Gallup found a sharp divide between attitudes to migrants in Eastern and Western Europe, with countries to the east of the continent overwhelmingly negative towards the idea of accepting migrants. This attitude prevailed across the region, though it was most pronounced in countries on the “Balkan route” travelled by hundreds of thousands of migrants until it was closed in early 2016. 

The poll surveyed people in 139 countries worldwide, asking them whether they think immigrants living in their country, becoming their neighbour or marrying into their families are good things or bad things. Countries were rated on a scale of one to nine, with nine denoting a nation being the most willing to accept migrants. 

Asides from Israel, all 10 countries that scored lowest on the index were from Eastern Europe, with Macedonia, followed by Montenegro and Hungary the least receptive to migrants. 

When the migration crisis was at its peak, Macedonia found itself the bulwark against irregular migration mainly from the Middle East and North Africa, as the first country on the route after Greece — the entry point to Europe for many migrants and refugees. This angered officials including President Gjorge Ivanov, who argued the country was expending resources it couldn’t afford to protect the EU, while its accession process had long been stalled. 

Serbia, Slovakia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Croatia were also among the top 10 countries whose citizens were least keen to live alongside migrants. 

“Nine of the 10 countries that score a 2.39 or lower (out of a possible 9.0) on the index are former Soviet bloc countries - with most located along the Balkan route that once channeled asylum seekers from Greece to Germany. Israel, which has dealt with its own influx of asylum seekers from Africa in the past decade, is the only non-European country with scores this low,” says the survey. 

Gallup also found that residents of the nine East European countries were the most strongly opposed to accepting Syrian refugees. “At least half of adults in seven of these least-accepting countries believe their countries should not accept any refugees. In Macedonia, Hungary and Montenegro, the countries with the lowest Migrant Acceptance Index scores in the world, at least two-thirds say their countries should not admit any Syrian refugees,” the report adds. 

It also revealed a stark divide across the EU, which is likely to complicate policymaking going forward. Sweden and Ireland were among the 10 countries most receptive to taking in migrants, with high proportions of respondents also in favour in numerous other West European countries including Germany. 

Eastern European leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have already fallen foul of fellow EU members to the west. The Hungarian outcry over the European Court of Justidce ruling came at a time of already heightened tensions with Brussels, as EU officials said they had no intention of paying for the fence Hungary had controversially built along its southern borders to keep migrants out. 

While the East-West divide on the issue across the continent was the starkest, the survey also found considerable differences within countries. Young people — especially the post-Millenial “Gen Z”, richer people and those with higher education were the most likely to welcome migrants.