18 September 2015

As Human Rights Watch (HRW) has highlighted, Hungary is facing an influx of migrants and asylum seekers, with nearly 150,000 since the beginning of 2015 and reports of up to 3,000 migrants and asylum seekers crossing the border with Serbia every day in the first week of September.

Since the beginning of the year the Hungarian government has engaged in an anti-immigrant campaign and has adopted legislation, which entered into force on Tuesday 15 September, aimed at dealing with the migrant crisis,. The new law provides – among others – for the criminalisation of irregular entry to Hungarian territory. It also criminalises the destruction of the fence, introduces the deployment of the army at the border and declares countries such as FYRoM and Serbia as “safe third countries”.

Under the amended law, people attempting to break through the razor wire fence could be jailed for up to three years. What is more, Hungary has declared a state of emergency in two of its southern counties bordering Serbia and has also established “transit zones” along the borders with Serbia which are not considered to be on Hungarian territory. With the majority of people entering Hungary through Serbia, refugees held in those zones will have their asylum claims immediately rejected and will be subsequently deported on the basis of the “safe third country” concept; although families with children are currently exempted from this border procedure. 

It is worth mentioning that from the first day of the law’s entry into force, 16 asylum requests were rejected within a few hours and subject to accelerated procedures on the grounds that Hungary – as of July – considers Serbia a “safe third country” for refugees.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, in its analysis of the above-mentioned amendments, emphasized that “A substantive decision on the asylum claims is a prerequisite for determining the culpability of asylum seekers. If, during the course of the criminal procedure related to illegal entry, the defendant requests international protection, the criminal procedure must be suspended”. It also highlighted that Serbia cannot be considered a “safe third country”, and pointed to the failure of the newly introduced criminal procedures to comply with procedural safeguards established under human rights and EU law.

With regards to the conditions at Roszke migrant detention, where people trying to cross  the Hungarian borders are held, HRW reported “abysmal”conditions, after obtaining footage from inside the camp and interviewing current and former detainees. HRW criticized the Hungarian police practice to intercept and detain asylum seekers and migrants entering Hungary for days in insalubrious, overcrowded and inhumane conditions, lacking food and medical care.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 18 September 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.