UNHCR blasts proposed changes to Hungary's asylum act

By bne IntelliNews July 3, 2015

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The UN refugee agency is concerned about proposals aimed to amend Hungary’s asylum act and has called on the country not to ignore international standards in a rush to amend the system, it announced on July 2.

Hungary has seen an unprecedented influx of migrants in the past year. In order to cope with the problem the government has submitted a set of measures to parliament. 

The proposed changes include fast-track screening of asylum claims without proper due process, The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement. The measures also seek to send asylum-seekers back to third countries that may not be safe for them and allowing prolonged detention of asylum-seekers – including women, children and people with special needs.

Lawmakers are due to meet on July 3 to see if the proposed changes can be adopted on a fast-track basis, before the parliament takes a break for two weeks in mid-July. 

“Adoption of these proposals would have devastating implications for thousands of people seeking safety in Hungary,” said Montserrat Feixas Vihe, UNHCR’s regional representative for Central Europe. “We are asking the Hungarian government and public representatives to ensure that any amendments to its national asylum legislation is in conformity with international and regional protection standards, and is not contrary to those standards.”

The Hungarian asylum system has been becoming more and more restrictive even before the proposed changes, the UNHCR notes. The agency says the measures would make it impossible for people fleeing war and persecution to seek safety in the country.

Hungary has become a popular point of entry into the European Union in the past year. Tens of thousands of migrants have arrived from the Balkans in recent months, with the country receiving more asylum-seekers per capita than any other EU state apart from Sweden in 2014.

So far this year, 67,082 migrants have entered Hungary, most of them through Serbia. To stop the flow of illegal migrants, who will cost the budget HUF15.8bn (€50mn) this year according to the government, Budapest announced a plan to build a fence along its border with Serbia.

The influx of immigrants has only intensified the political debate over the issue in Hungary, having been seized upon by Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz government. Facing a sharp slide in polls, the populist PM has been stepping steadily to the right in recent months as the extremist Jobbik party gains in popularity.

That has seen Budapest conduct a poster and questionnaire campaign criticised for linking asylum seekers with terrorism and unemployment. Budapest recently secured an exemption from the EU's scheme to resettle 40,000 migrants that have arrived in Italy and Greece, with another 20,000 set to follow.

According to the results of a survey by Nezopont published on July 1, 76% of Hungarians said illegal migrants pose a problem for the country.

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