What You Need to Know About the Refugee Crisis in Hungary

What You Need to Know About the Refugee Crisis in Hungary

The inflammatory way that officials and the national media in Hungary describe the current influx of refugees creates confusion, hostility, and fear among our citizenry. This discourse has only exacerbated the xenophobia deeply entrenched in a part of the Hungarian population, and made the efforts of ordinary citizens and organizations working with asylum seekers and migrants more difficult.

The situation changes day by day—we have seen people concentrated at Budapest’s train stations, the construction of a 175-km-long border fence, violence erupting at the borders with Serbia, and new legislation [PDF] essentially preventing refugees from having access to international protection in Hungary.

The Central European nation of 10 million, recently converted into one of the main entry points to the EU for asylum seekers, undoubtedly faces a serious challenge. Here are 10 points that we should keep in mind as we work to understand what is happening in Hungary right now.

1. There is no migration crisis in Hungary.

Only one-and-a-half percent of the country’s population are immigrants—one of the lowest rates in the European Union. Most come from neighboring countries and are, on average, highly educated, gainfully employed taxpayers who contribute significantly to Hungary’s economy. In material terms, few countries have such a positive experience of immigration.

2. Migration fills in the gaps left by native-born Hungarians.

For instance, Hungary’s fertility rates have been decreasing since the 1980s, and are now among the lowest in the European Union. About 300,000 often highly qualified Hungarians have moved to other EU countries for work, leaving a labor force vacuum in medical care, IT, engineering, tourism, and other sectors.

3. These people are refugees in the purest legal sense.

In the last few months, over 80 percent of asylum seekers reaching Hungary have escaped the worst crises in the world: Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The remaining 20 percent come from countries like Pakistan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Iran—countries with weak human rights records and a high level of violence. Despite government communications labelling them as economic migrants, Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Somalis, and other refugees have the right to asylum, and Hungary has the legal obligation to provide protection.

4. Hungary’s asylum system has already been among the strictest and fastest ones in Europe.

In 2014, Hungary granted asylum to only 9 percent of applicants when over 40 percent came from conflict zones such as Syria and Afghanistan. This is the lowest rate across the entire EU, which approves an average of 45 percent of asylum applications.  

Hungary is one of the very few EU countries to detain first-time asylum seekers in large numbers. And even the open reception centers that hold asylum seekers are overcrowded, lack basic support services, and have hygienic conditions that are often unacceptable.

5. The number of migrants seeking asylum in Hungary has exponentially increased.

The number has increased from around 4,000 in 2012 to over 170,000 by September this year. The number of asylum seekers was already rising in 2013, but no provisions were taken to increase the capacity of the system despite the assistance offered from both civil society and the EU.

6. This may be a novel challenge, but it’s not the unbearable crisis many portray it as.

The vast majority of asylum seekers leave Hungary very quickly towards the West. It is estimated that half of them do not stay more in the country than one or two days, and the onward movement has further accelerated in recent months. During the summer, there were usually no more than a few thousand asylum seekers actually staying in the country. Now this number is a few hundred.

7. Hungary has recently amended its asylum legislation with the sole intention of keeping people seeking international protection out of Hungary.

The construction of a fence on the Serbian–Hungarian border was a first step explicitly aimed at blocking refugee flows (followed by a similar fence on parts of the border with Croatia and Romania being built at the moment). Changes in legislation have created a legal barrier that causes nearly all asylum claims to be automatically rejected in an extremely accelerated procedure.

Our team has witnessed how some potentially legitimate asylum claims were rejected in less than an hour in a so-called border procedure. The crossing of the border fence has been made a criminal offense, with over 250 “perpetrators” already condemned in less than two weeks, in extremely fast criminal procedures, lacking some of the most fundamental procedural safeguards [PDF]. These migrants are now expelled by the court and prohibited from entering the Schengen area for one or two years.

8. Hungary now considers Serbia a “safe third country” for refugees.

This means that it is legal to immediately send back any asylum seeker who has entered from Serbia—like Syrians, Afghans, or Iraqis—irrespective of their protection needs and the circumstances they are fleeing. This goes against EU law, the recommendation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the guidance of Hungary’s own Supreme Court. Serbia does not have a functioning asylum system and offers no shelter and no prospect of protection for most refugees.

Since mid-September, two so-called “transit zones” in Röszke and Tompa have been operating just a few meters from the border. These are now the only spots where Hungary accepts asylum applications on its border sections closed with a fence. However, at the time of writing, extremely few asylum seekers are allowed to submit an asylum claim here.

9. It’s important to recognize that the crisis in management has a European dimension.

The Common European Asylum System has not managed so far to build truly common standards, and it allows for exaggerated room for maneuver for states wishing to disregard their protection obligations. The apparent inaction of the EU and the international community against such a blatant violation of EU law and international human rights standards threatens to set a very dangerous precedent that will encourage other states to follow the same road.

10. Creating a sense of “being under attack by refugees” lays the groundwork for restricting their own citizens’ fundamental liberties.

This situation in Hungary has shown that hasty legal and practical measures—which have failed to provide protection but turn refugees away, and which are coupled with very strong rhetoric by political decision makers that question the fundamentals of asylum—will boost xenophobia and racism in the entire population.

Even when any improvement in the Hungarian asylum system seems further than ever, we see a ray of hope. We have reached a moment where Europe has recognized that there is something fundamentally problematic with its current asylum system, and willingness to step in and respond is growing.

A new responsibility-sharing mechanism based on solidarity and a higher level of cooperation is already in the making. Moreover, in order to preserve the institution of asylum and human rights protection, the EU should take bold measures to enforce its rules already in place. If it fails, the price to pay will be some of the most fundamental building blocks of the Union, such as internal free movement and the unquestionable respect for human rights and civil liberties. The negative consequences are unpredictable and reach far beyond the fate of forced migrants seeking protection.

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The rights of the refugees ended when they refused to ask for asylum in the first peaceful country they arrived in. Instead they cross half a dozen countries in order to register in one that they choose. This makes them economic migrants plain and simple.
Terrorists are getting in, and they will strike when the time is right for them. Lives will be lost....Now you know why we don't want them in the West.BTW.When will we run when they become majority in our countries and impose Sharia law? To Middle East?

You are exactly right! It's amazing that more people are not able to see through the obvious goals of these so-called 'refugees'. It also amazes me that when ISIS was first rising and slaughtering whole villages no one cared, then they were opposed to bombing ISIS, but now that 'refugees' (actually migrants from other countries) are flooding Syria and forcing their way into Europe and other western countries, everyone is crying out for the west to take them in! Meanwhile, even the richest Middle Eastern countries are not taking them for fear of terrorism in their midst.

No, the rights of refugees should NOT have ended just because they refused (which I doubt) to ask for asylum! Maybe the countries they crossed already had a lot of refugees. What countries did they cross? Not many and Turkey already has syrian refugees. Romania has taken some; Bulgaria is the poorest country in Europe therefore they can't take in many. Maybe Syrian refugees believed Hungary was a good place to go (wow, they were wrong because evidently Hungary is not good). My country,the wonderful U.S.A., that I am proud to be a citizen of, has taken in Syrian refugees. Don't you think that we are afraid of terrorists?? We are not cowards! We have compassion! Do you even know what that means?? Hungary, evidently, doesn't care for other people's lives, just their own. That is stupid to think they will impose Sharia law! Do you seriously believe that?? I have 0 respect for you or Hungary!!

Don't you understand? What if that was you! You were the refugee that no one wold take in! Even though you are innocent they don't trust you! How would that feel? you need to find some empathy because people will always die it could be me or it could be anyone but we cant neglect people like that for something they did not do. For a crime they did not commit.

In my view, Hungary is fast becoming a police state. Orban is a very dangerous man.

Hungary is protecting their OWN People, their Own Culture, Religion ,Traditions first and foremost and that is their RIGHT to do so.

Thank you soo much for this and your humanitarian efforts. We need more #GoodHungarians like you.

Hungary signed in 1989 the convention on refugees. Mainly to avoid having to return to Ceacescu's Romania refugees (mainly ethnic Hungarians). This convention also allowed Hungary to give shelter to the refugees fleeing the German Democratic Republic. The Syrians coming to Hungary fleeing war and horror have the same right to asylum.

UNHCR recognises the right of refugees to a choice in the country they settle in - which may be dictated by culture, language or simply the desire to be among people who welcome them. So, Mario, why don't you?

Mario, you see things clearly. When safety is not enough for refugees, they are no longer true refugees.

To all of you who believe that Hungary is doing the right thing by not letting in Syrians you are WRONG! Where is your compassion? The United States worries too, but we are taking some of them into our country. I don't understand what you are trying to say Mary?? First of all, Mario does not see things clearly because if he did he would realize that it is cowardly & inhumane what Hungary is doing to the refugees! Taking in refugees, regardless of the fear, is part of what makes the U.S. so great. I am very glad to be an American!!

This entire migration of refugees is out of control and the EU is only supporting criminals making a fortune out of smuggling people into Europe, encouraging people to take unsafe journeys where they might drown, allowing them to cross borders without being identified and now forcing countries to take refugees against their will. A total farce. I see parallels with the BT oil spill and ask the same question. When are they finally going to plug the hole. When will EU ships patrol the Mediterranean bringing these boats back to Turkey?
I fully support centers either in or close to the countries that refugees come from, supported by global financing that process and determine asylum claims. Schengen is also a farce and only supports exporting powers like Germany. I have no problem with borders and they worked well for centuries. Manufacturing countries like Germany are also only interested in keeping wages low so the rich can get richer and that is the main driver for this liberalism with migrants. And lastly is it really immoral of any country to say they would like to limit the islamic influence on their culture?

Hungary is run by a racist and a religious extremist xenophobic prime minister who is a blot on the name of humanity in general and Christianity in particular.

It is immoral because that statement discriminates against one particular religion. Countries should limit the control of religious groups in general and thats what a constitution secures. Linking refugees to a threat through Islam is a generalisation and a failed attempt to morally justify rejecting refugees, but the fact is: refugees are diverse and I believe most are themselves victims of war and terrorism.

Why Hungarians and all eastern countries strove to get in to the EU? many of them were asylum seekers before joining the EU but they were only economic refugees. Now they are in they dont care about real people in need, where is solidarity? we should have held a referendum before those countries entered the EU.

We are Asylum Seeker we are from Pakistan but as religious persecution we leaved our country Pakistan and came to Thailand Bangkok we are 7 family members we are Christian please reply me as soon as possible thank may Jesus bless you.

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