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Duncan Lewis Fact Finding Mission to Hungary: Political and Historical Background (4 March 2015)

Date: 04/03/2015
Duncan Lewis, Main Solicitors, Duncan Lewis Fact Finding Mission to Hungary: Political and Historical Background

Immigration and refugee situation in Hungary: Hungary had joined the Geneva-Convention just in 1989 immediately before the political change in the country (and in the region).

Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall the question of immigration and refugee matter had not played an important role in the country’s political life due to the fact that Hungarians emigrated from the country rather than foreigners immigrating into Hungary, aside from a short period of time (1946-49) when great amounts of Greek refugees (about 6000-8000) settled in Hungary due to the civil war that hit the country at that time.

Hungary had no clear and sophisticated immigration policy immediately after the political change (1989-90) as well; the refugee question did not play a significant role due to the fact that the country had had a complicated and unsure transition period caused by the anomalies of dismantling the old, communist values and turning the county to the new market economy.

This “lukewarm” immigration situation had changed fundamentally when the civil war erupted in Yugoslavia. Thousands of people, especially members of the Hungarian minority living in Serbia left their home, land and immigrated to Hungary, settled down or left for other countries - first of all Western European ones - during the Balkan war.

The war in the Middle-East as well as the politically and economically precarious situation in Africa generated new waves of asylum-seekers during the past decade. Hungary’s full EU-membership in 2004 and it joining the Schengen Treaty made the country a transit destination.

Recently, following the independence of Kosovo, the exodus of Albanians exacerbates the refugee situation in the country. Up until 2012 about 3000-4000 refugees per year had arrived into Hungary but this number had skyrocketed in 2013 when the authorities registered 20 000 to 28 000 asylum seekers. These numbers are steadily increasing on a daily basis.

Hungary is neither politically, economically nor socially prepared for these numbers of asylum-seekers.

As result of EU pressure on the country as well as the new government policy that came to power in 2010, the country’s immigration strategy is getting tougher by the day.

In contrast to the previous practice when most of all asylum applicants were put into the Békéscsaba refugee center, recently all illegal entrants entering the country without or with invalid travel documents are taken to detention centers automatically provoking fierce criticism within the EU.

Earlier, asylum-seekers could spend about one year in these detention centers but recently the authorities let them go after a short period of time (approx. 30 days) when closing their basic checking.

The biggest reception center in Hungary is located in Debrecen. The center provides room and board for asylum seekers having appropriate travel documents for the duration of the asylum procedure. Those who finally get their refugee or subsidiary protection status are referred to the center of Bicske getting some preparation for the integration into the country.

With respect to the rapid rise in the number of asylum-seekers in recent time, the government put the refugees situation at the topic of the Hungarian parliament in mid-February in order to prepare the introduction of a more rigorous regulation regarding the present law on refugee matters saying that most of the migrants entering the country are so called “economic migrants” (i.e. they come here just in the hope of finding economically a better life in the West) like the Kosovo-Albanians who see Hungary just as a transit country, on their journey to the West.

In persuading the opposition of the necessity of a tougher immigration policy the Prime Minister, Viktor Orban stressed that Austria and Germany are about to tighten their liberal refugee policy so Hungary should expect more returned asylum-seekers by applying the Dublin procedure. Therefore, people who enter the country without valid travel documents over the so called “green border” must be apprehend automatically, declared them illegal migrants/ entrants and filed criminal lawsuits against them.

The plan provoked fierce criticism from the opposition and many NGO groups are voicing their concerns that the government wants to employ the philosophy of „deterrence” in its new policy in order to reduce the refugee influx which is impermissible. In addition, the country has not yet been prepared for this: There are neither physical nor financial means available for mass arrests available. The government is unable to provide even basic care to migrants; the refugee camps are over-crowded where people live in miserable circumstances, they are mistreated by the authorities and staff. In contrast to western practice, mental health and treatment of vulnerable detainees are totally unknown to the state system. If there were no NGOs taking responsibility for these vulnerable segments of detainees, the current official structure would not be able to handle the issue. The aim of the government is just to divert the attention from the current economic problems of the country by trying to make political scapegoat out of the immigration situation.

However, in all probability, the government will be able to pass this draft through the parliament and introduce a new concept of “asylum incarceration/arrest “ in all probability because it has a convincing majority in the parliament and has the support of the far- right wing party Jobbik in this case.

A team of three at Duncan Lewis went to Hungary on a fact-finding mission and spoke to various NGOs, social workers, lawyers, detainees and attended the biggest detention centre in the country in Debrecen. We obtained a thorough and comprehensive insight into the detention regime of the Hungarian government and the information and documents that we had gathered will be an invaluable asset that we will be able to use in our future Hungarian Judicial Review cases.

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