17 March 2016

Following a number of severely restrictive amendments to its asylum law in 2015, the Hungarian government is proposing to continue its assault on the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in new draft legislation that decimates integration support, reduces the physical space allotted to individuals in asylum detention and introduces an automatic review of status at 3 year intervals. 

ECRE member, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) has raised significant concerns about the legislative package, which it believes fails to meet Hungary’s obligations in international, European and domestic law and is aimed at encouraging secondary movement, undermining EU solidarity. Co-chair Márta Pardavi explained that “with the legal and physical barriers to access protection in Hungary introduced in the fall of 2015, the government intended to ensure no asylum seekers would come. Now, by eliminating state-funded integration support specific to beneficiaries of international protection, the Bill is aimed at making the few people who do receive protection in Hungary move on elsewhere.”

In its comments on the legislation, which it was given just four working days to prepare in a flawed consultation procedure, the HHC states that it deprives beneficiaries of international protection from any real possibility of social integration. The proposed measures mean that after a positive decision, individuals will only be allowed to stay in state-funded reception centres for 30 days, increasing the risk of homelessness, criminalisation and social stigmatisation. Furthermore, the monthly cash allowance for those recently granted protection will be withdrawn and integration contracts will cease to exist. Eligibility for free basic health care will be reduced from 12 months to 6 months, benefits for school enrolment will be reduced and there will no longer be access to free language courses. This is likely to cause insurmountable difficulties for those seeking to find housing, employment and a new life in Hungary.

In addition, the government proposes to automatically review status after 3 years, or upon an extradition request being made. The HHC consider that this is likely to increase the workload of the Hungarian authorities with minimal effect after review, while at the same time damaging the integration prospects of protection holders by causing uncertainty about length of residence. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that certain states make politically motivated extradition requests, with some criminal charges potentially amounting to persecution.

In an attempt to reduce overcrowding at asylum detention centres, the government proposes to decrease the minimum space provided to asylum seekers. The HHC argue that overcrowding is caused by unlawful detention practices which make the detention of asylum seekers very frequent, and could be resolved by properly considering alternatives to detention and effective judicial review. Instead, asylum seekers will be held in conditions that may amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.

Another worrying development is that on 9 March the government declared a nationwide state of emergency due to mass migration, which allows the increased deployment of police officers and soldiers to the border. They will participate in registering asylum applications and border management, including crowd control. The government justified this measure on the basis that the closure of the Balkan route may result in unforeseen consequences. However the HHC have condemned this move as unlawful, illogical and politically motivated, calling on the government to withdraw the decision.

“A far-reaching measure that allows for restrictions on civil liberties must be based on law, not speculation. However, as the numbers of arrivals from the Balkan route fall very short of the legal threshold for ordering a ‘mass migration crisis’, the government has chosen to disregard the rule of law”, said Pardavi.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 18 March 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.