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Schrödinger’s Immigrant

When Central and Eastern European leaders try to explain why they do not want to accept refugees, they tend to contradict one another. Some insist that refugees take jobs from natives, which implies that refugees are hard workers; others complain that refugees rely on welfare benefits, which suggests that they work too little.

PRAGUE – When Central and Eastern European leaders try to explain why they do not want to accept refugees, they tend to contradict one another. Some insist that refugees take jobs from natives, which implies that refugees are hard workers; others complain that refugees rely on welfare benefits, which suggests that they work too little.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, for example, argues for the former. Between 2015 and 2016, his government spent more than €50 million ($59 million) on anti-immigrant advertisements, including billboards warning immigrants not to take natives’ jobs.

By contrast, Czech politicians such as former Deputy Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, Minister of the Interior Milan Chovanec, and former President Václav Klaus all portray refugees and migrants as freeloaders who have their sights set on generous welfare benefits. And according to the current Czech president, Miloš Zeman, these welfare-seekers can all be lumped into a single category: “Muslims.”

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