Mgr. Jana Papcunová, Spoločenskovedný ústav CSPV SAV, email@example.com
Mgr. Miroslava Bozogáňová, PhD., Spoločenskovedný ústav CSPV SAV,firstname.lastname@example.org
Thousands of people are forced to leave their homes every day and leave everything behind. People like you; people like me. Every year, World Refugee Day is commemorated on June 20. Who is a refugee is defined in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, also known as the Geneva Convention, adopted on 28 July 1951 by the UN General Assembly in Geneva. The very definition of a refugee applies to “any person who is outside his or her own country of nationality or habitual residence, is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” (Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 1A). A significant benefit of the Geneva Convention was that it unified the international treaties in force until then, which regulated the legal status of fleeing persons and the protection of their rights.
Millions of refugees around the world are still exposed to violence, separation from family, loss of culture and exile. The situation around the Covid -19 pandemic, as stated by the World Health Organization1, exposes this population to a new threat that could prove more devastating than the events that force them to flee their homeland. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states in a recent report2 that the numbers of people admitted during this period will be significantly lower due to closed borders and travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. To overcome the challenges, the further efforts of the international community – the state and private sector, academia, civil societies, and communities themselves need to look for opportunities for the supporting the admission and integration of refugees.
Migration takes various forms and foreigners living in Slovakia also differ in which countries they come from and why they come to Slovakia. Ambiguities in the concepts and categories used to describe migrants often contribute to a mixture of chaos and misunderstanding, which can have adverse consequences for the most vulnerable – refugees themselves3. In the media, we often see the word migrant automatically confused with “illegal” migrant, which may be one of the reasons why it has taken on a negative connotation. Calling a certain group of people “illegal” denies them their humanity. There is no such thing as an “illegal” person. This inaccuracy has real impacts on policy and public perception and leads society to accept that people should be prosecuted and punished3.
It is therefore necessary to look at the topic of refugees and migration through comprehensible data and correct terminology.
Migration, refugees, and Slovakia.
Eurobarometer and the European Social Survey (ESS) are among the leading international comparative surveys examining Europe’s social, political, and moral transformation. The regular rotating modules also include attitudes towards migrants, migration in the context of individual countries (including Slovakia) and their mutual comparison. Eurobarometer operates with the term’s immigration and immigrants, where an immigrant is defined as a person who was born outside the EU, has left his or her home country and is currently legally residing in that country. In this context, it is not explicitly stated whether he is a Muslim migrant, a migrant from Eastern Europe, etc. The European Social Survey, in turn, distinguishes people of the same race/ethnic group, different race/ethnic group and people coming to Slovakia from poorer countries – primarily third world countries.
According to the results of the European Social Survey (ESS, 2018)4, Slovak respondents are more open to the arrival of people of the same race/ethnic group (9.05%) than the arrival of people of different race/ethnic group (4.45%) and people from poorer countries outside Europe (4.58%). No or a few people from poorer countries outside Europe would be allowed to come and live in Slovakia by up to 68.2% of respondents, another race/ethnic group 70.7%, and people of the same race/ethnic group 51.55% of respondents. In comparison with the V4 countries, in the index of attitudes to the arrival of migrants, respondents were placed in the top ten negative attitudes (Hungary – 1st, Czech Republic – 2nd, Slovakia – 3rd & Poland – 6th place) from 27 countries participating in the ESS. Based on the available results of Eurobarometer 88.2 (2017)5, 36.2% of the respondents think that there are more immigrants who are staying legally, 16.4% think that more immigrants are staying illegally and 14.3% cannot tell if they are staying legally or illegally. Only 6.9% of the Slovak respondents see immigration as an opportunity.
Findor et al.,6 (2020) examined the preferences and attitudes of Slovaks towards the three most frequently used terms within the Slovak Republic – migrant, refugee, and foreigner. According to the results, they are evaluated differently – the term “refugee” evokes less favourable feelings, attitudes, trust, and greater social distance among Slovaks compared to the terms “migrant” and “foreigner”. These findings, as stated by the authors themselves, challenge previous studies from West European countries, highlighting the need for further research on the formation of these concepts, with an emphasis on cultural, institutional, and normative contextual factors that could help explain why they are in some countries “refugees” preferred over “migrants”, while for others “migrants” receive more positive evaluations.
According to the above-mentioned data from international surveys, Slovak society is in a rather negative attitude towards migration and the arrival of migrants. This fact may to some extent result from the prevailing conservative value orientation, cultural isolation of Slovaks, where only a small part of the population comes to contact with people of another race or ethnic group, or people from poorer third world countries. These data also correspond to the survey of the Institute of Sociology SAS7 from December 2015, in which 70% of respondents stated that they were afraid of the arrival of refugees, 7.1% thought that refugees wanted to come to Slovakia, while up to 63.9% thought that the refugees did not want to come to Slovakia. Current statistics from the Ministry of the Interior of the Slovak Republic from this year speak of 6 asylums granted so far out of 87 official applications.
The migration and integration policies of the country are significantly influenced by the attitudes of the majority public, how public opinion is opposed to the arrival of refugees, migrants of the same or different race. In conclusion, perhaps with the ambition to balance not exactly favourable data from surveys and statistics, and despite the antivaxxer movement, we consider it important to point out that behind a successful coronavirus vaccine is a married couple of Turkish immigrants in Germany. Their ambitious story of scientists to develop a method to defeat a global pandemic, but also cancer and other diseases, would be enough for them to become heroes of this challenging time8.
But the fact that they both come from families who have left their countries of origin to find their new home elsewhere should also be an inspiration and an opportunity for our reflection.
This research was supported by the Grant programme for SAS PhD students under the Contract no. APP0175 and Grant VEGA 2/0068/19: Attitudes towards migrants in socio-psychological contexts.
1Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2020;98:510-510A. doi http://dx.doi.org/10.2471/BLT.20.271080
3Hlinčíková, M., & Mesežnikov, G. (2016). Otvorená krajina alebo nedobytná pevnosť. Slovensko, migranti a utečenci.(An open country or impenetrable stronghold? Slovakia, migrants and refugees.).
4Bozogáňová, M., Piterová, I.,. Kríza dôvery na Slovensku: áno alebo nie? In Kríza dôvery: Teória a výskum. – Bratislava : IRIS, 2020, s. 170-199. ISBN 978-80-8200-069-9. (Vega č. 2/0068/19 : Postoje voči migrantom v sociálno-psychologických kontextoch)
5Bozogáňová, M. (2020). The opinions of the Slovak population on immigrants based on Eurobarometer data. Človek a Spoločnosť, 23(1). doi:10.31577/cas.2020.01.568
6Findor, A., Hruška, M., Jankovská, P., & Pobudová, M. (2021). Re-examining public opinion preferences for migrant categorizations: “Refugees” are evaluated more negatively than “migrants” and “foreigners” related to participants’ direct, extended, and mass-mediated intergroup contact experiences. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 80, 262–273. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2020.12.004
7Bahna, Miloslav – Klobucký, Robert (2015): Slovenská verejnosť a utečenci v decembri 2015. Tlačová správa Sociologického ústavu Slovenskej akadémie vied – http://www.sociologia.sav.sk/cms/uploaded/ 2297_attach_tlacova_sprava_SU_SAV21122015.pdf