Shattuck on Migration and the University’s Response to the Refugee Crisis

Translation of the interview CEU President and Rector John Shattuck gave

to Hungarian daily Nepszabadsag, published on October 5, 2015

A Feeling of Isolation and Exclusion is Noticeable


A tendency for isolation and exclusion can still be felt in Central Europe. This is what we see regarding the refugee crisis, said John Shattuck, CEU’s President and Rector in his interview with Nepszabadsag. The international lawyer is sad to see that many countries failed to apply international refugee laws in an appropriate way.

How does CEU contribute to the mitigation of the refugee crisis?

When the crisis began, many of CEU’s faculty members and students launched donation collection initiatives. Some of our students who speak the languages of the refugees helped out as interpreters. The Center for Media, Data and Society at our School of Public Policy established wifi hotspots at places where a lot of refugees gathered together such as the Keleti Train Station. Our faculty members also organized numerous discussions on topics related to the refugee crisis. One of the most interesting of those is carried out at the Center for Conflict Negotiation and Recovery. A group of three (two Syrians and one American) is working on the Aleppo Project, which concerns the future planning of this annihilated city. The Syrian researchers are refugees themselves, who are putting together the plans while exchanging views with other refugees. The Department of Architecture of Columbia University, New York is also cooperating with them, for example, by screening current conditions with the help of GPS tools. Last week we made a decision that English-speaking registered refugees having the necessary education background can audit classes at CEU, which we will eventually certify as well.

According to you, what is the reason for the influx of refugees?

The whole conflict needs to be examined in a broader context. This is not just a Hungarian problem and not just a European one: this is a global issue. It has been brought about by a number of prolonged crises that are taking place not only in the Middle East, but also on other continents – for instance, in Africa. There are awful conditions in the overcrowded refugee camps of Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. And this is the responsibility of the international community, too. These states should have received much more humanitarian aid – for instance, through the UN’s Refugee Agency. In the longer run, this migration is part of a global challenge. How can we stabilize the situation in those unstable countries where violence forces inhabitants to leave? I am critical of the behavior of the European Union as much as that of the United States and the UN Security Council.

On the reaction of Hungary and other Central European countries.

I haven’t seen any proof that masses of migrants would wish to settle down in Hungary, Slovakia or Croatia, or anywhere else in Central Eastern Europe. They are heading north to Germany and Scandinavia. There is a lot of distorted information that leads people to think that this whole issue is targeted against Hungary or other countries in the region. It might be due to previous eras and the decades of Soviet domination that Central Europe tends towards isolation and exclusion. This is what we are sensing now. The standards of living are also lagging behind Western European ones, and this might also spark acts of rejection in the refugee crisis. I am sad to see that international refugee law is not applied appropriately in many countries.

Would America be able to stop the flow of refugees? Many affirm that the US is to blame for the crisis.

The United States as well as Canada or Australia could do much more to alleviate the refugee crisis. I was glad to see this week that the US has raised the number of admissible refugees to two hundred thousand. That is a good step, but even more could be done. But it is nonsense to say that “America is sending the refugees to Europe”.

 Is the Syrian war comparable to the Balkans conflicts in the 1990s?

I took part in the development of the Dayton Agreement. The war was horrible on the Balkans, and it turned many people into refugees. It was in the interest of the great powers to end the war, and this stopped the flow of refugees. The present conflict is more complex than the Yugoslavian war twenty years ago in that this time great powers are also involved in it. So I hope that the negotiations that are about to begin can bring the end of this conflict closer.

 For the original interview, in Hungarian, see