See You in Telegram: Iranians in Hungary
By Fardin Alikhah
Immigration of Iranians to Hungary is a recent phenomenon. The country is considered as a temporary residence and a gateway to other Western European countries. There is no organization of Iranians in Hungary, they mostly communicate via social media, especially Telegram. Initial findings of a research on Iranian immigrants.
Though some Iranians came to Hungary to study medicine over the past decades and stayed here after graduation, and some Iranian communist activists came to Hungary as asylum seekers after World War II and during communist era, the immigration of Iranians to Hungary is mostly a new phenomenon. For some reasons, Hungary and other Eastern European countries have not been the main targets for Iranians compared to countries like Germany, England and Sweden:
- The number of Iranians in Hungary is small, there is a lack of an Iranian diaspora community. The aggregation of Iranians in a country usually encourages other Iranians to join them.
- Iranians living in Iran share their experience about migration destination countries. Hungary is usually not the main destination of immigration, instead, countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Sweden are introduced as immigration destinations.
- Hungary has a strict immigration policy, or at least Hungarian political authorities announced a strong anti-immigration stance in mass media.
- The homogeneity of the Hungarian society makes it difficult to integrate immigrants. Unlike some of the countries that have been known as multicultural, Hungary is generally considered a homogeneous unity.
- Last but not least, the level of wages in this country is low, compared to Western European countries.
Although Hungary has become a destination for some Iranian immigrants in recent years, it should be noted that this country is considered as a temporary residence and primarily as a gateway to more developed Western European countries. Due to Hungary’s economic situation, especially to low wages, some Iranians have already left Hungary for countries such as Germany, Sweden, Austria and Canada.
The worsening economic conditions in Iran and a sharp decline in the value of the Rial against the dollar had two impacts on the flow of immigrants: some students studying at Hungarian colleges and universities couldn’t bear the cost of living and returned to Iran, and some of them who were still in Iran refused coming to Hungary in spite of enrolling in colleges and universities. In fact, currency fluctuations have been a shock for agents sending students to study in Hungary. As another impact of the dire economic condition, some young families are struggling to reside in a Schengen area country due to profound disappointment towards the future of their country.
Nevertheless, the unexpected fact is that in recent years few Iranians who resided in countries such as Britain, Norway, and Germany have migrated to Hungary. In interviews they said that the reasons behind that were the spread of anti-immigrant attitudes and the difficulty of integration in those countries, while, in their view, Hungarians are warm people.
- the lack of different generations of Iranian immigrants,
- immigration of young families who are mainly seeking employment opportunities and stability in Hungary,
- the lack of wealthy Iranian immigrants, and ultimately
- the prevailing of students who usually form the most unstable group of residents,
there are no Iranian diasporic organizations in Hungary, therefore, there is no coherent association among Iranians who live in Hungary. Even Iranian students lack any unions that exist at most universities in the world. The Yalda Night and New Year Celebrations in a few small Iranian restaurants and some limited, annual concerts by Los Angeles-based Iranian singers are the most important Iranian cultural events in Budapest. The Iranian embassy in Hungary also celebrates the New Year every year.
Iranians in Hungary communicate with each other largely through social media. Telegram is their most important social media platform. In Telegram groups, members frequently ask questions about rent, exchange rates, university exam questions, residence and immigration, entrance exams of universities and colleges, academic rules and regulations, and living in Hungary in general. Other members respond based on their information and experience. Also, businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, transportation, real estate, and barber shops release some ads in these groups. So, practical subjects are the main topic of Iranian social media groups in Hungary. Sometimes there is a tough quarrel between competing businesses and agents. They accuse each other of fraud and use ugly and offensive words against each other. Some victims also explain their bitter experience of fraud.
What do Iranians do in Hungary?
Most Iranians live in Budapest. Iranians living in other cities are mostly medical students in Szeged and Pecs. Although in the past decades the majority of applicants came to study medical sciences (pharmacy, medicine, dentistry and physiotherapy), in recent years a number of people came to study technology, engineering, humanities and art. Also, some families send their children who have just finished high school to Hungary, as there are some colleges that have been established by Iranians to prepare applicants for entrance exams to medical universities. Importantly, in recent years, Iranians from countries such as Canada and the United States also come to Hungary to study medicine, mostly because of the low cost of medical universities in Hungary compared to their countries.
Iranian youth are keen to study in Schengen countries. One of the reasons for the preference of Hungary is that it is easier to enter universities and study medicine than in other Western European countries such as Germany, Austria or the United Kingdom. Iranians prefer to choose Hungary over the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Poland, because it has top ranking medical universities. Also, the list of universities approved by the Iranian Ministry of Science, Research and Technology is very important for student decision making. (Each year the ministry announces the list of approved universities.) The author’s preliminary research indicates that parents of the majority of applicants for medicine are physicians, and most of these students did not succeed in the entrance exams of Iranian universities, where there are a lot of applicants for medicine and the number of admissions is very limited.
Real estate agencies and restaurants are among the most widespread Iranian businesses in Budapest, but there are also some Iranian brokers and agents. They receive a commission for various services such as finding an apartment, renting a car, enrolling new students, starting a business, accompanying people at the immigration office, etc. The main target group of these brokers is the new students. Some students reported being victims of fraudsters. Some of these students, after familiarizing themselves with the Hungarian society, earn money through dealership. Some of them gradually abandon the university for earning money.
More than social and cultural integration, economic integration and, in particular, finding a job and making money are the most important concerns of Iranians in Hungary. Some of them have married Hungarian girls for a better cultural integration and attachment with the host country. Most Iranians reside in the Corvin Setany neighborhood, 8th district of Budapest. The reasons for choosing this neighborhood are
- newly built apartments,
- affordable rent,
- neighborhood security,
- easy access to public transportation and
- proximity to universities and colleges where students study.
The initial findings of this study show that Iranians residing in Hungary don’t have strong religious beliefs and practices. The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Budapest is a key place for those who attend religious ceremonies, some also go to Islamic mosques in Budapest, but in general, few Iranians are interested in attending such places.
With social mobility, improved economic conditions and greater familiarity with the host country, moving to Budapest’s 5th and 6th districts is one of the options for Iranian residents. Their biggest difficulty in integrating to the society is Hungarian language. The weakness of economic, social and cultural integration on the one hand and the lack of an Iranian diasporic community on the other, have certain social and psychological consequences including the lack of a sense of belonging.
Fardin Alikhah is Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Guilan in Iran. He is interested in studying Iranian everyday life with an interdisciplinary approach. This article is part of his ongoing research on media and integration among Iranian immigrants in Hungary. Its data was collected through participant observation, in-depth and semi-structured interviews. Fardin is hosted by the Center for Media, Data and Society through Central European University’s Visiting Research Fellowship.