During the year many countries in the EU and Southeast Europe experienced an unprecedented wave of migration from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, consisting of a mix of asylum seekers/potential refugees, economic migrants, and trafficking victims, among others. For simplicity, this report will refer to these populations as “migrants and asylum seekers” if more specific information is not available.
By the end of the year, police registered 391,384 “illegal migrants” (crossing the border not at the official border stations but through the “green border”) arriving in Hungary (compared with 44,709 in 2014). The Office of Immigration and Nationality (BAH) registered 177,135 asylum claims (compared with 42,777 in 2014). Of these, the BAH terminated more than 152,260 cases, mainly due to the absence of the applicant, and issued decisions on the merits in 3,819 cases. The BAH granted refugee status, subsidiary protection, or tolerated status in 508 cases (compared with 503 in 2014), which was 13 percent of the cases assessed on the merits. There were 1,402 persons returned to Hungary from other EU members under the Dublin III regulation (827 in 2014).
In response to the mass influx of migrants and asylum seekers in August and September, the parliament enacted new laws that took effect in September and October. Under the new laws, crossing the border illegally along the security fence at the Serbia (and later at the Croatia) border constitutes a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment and expulsion. The previous law provided that crossing the border illegally constituted a petty offense and remained applicable in cases of illegal border crossing at any border not protected with a security fence. The new laws empower the government to announce a “crisis situation caused by mass immigration” for up to six months under certain conditions. The government may impose specific measures pursuant to such a declaration, including mobilizing the armed forces under the direction of the police for administrative tasks related to border security.
On December 10, the European Commission opened an infringement procedure against the country in connection with the newly adopted asylum regulations, which remained pending at the end of the year.
On February 11, the government began a wide-ranging public relations campaign against migrants and asylum seekers. The campaign included the placement of anti-immigration billboards across the country and circulation of a “National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism” survey-style questionnaire. UNHCR expressed concern over the questionnaire, noting that it contained “suggestive, leading questions, which actively promote hostility toward migrants and risk spreading xenophobia within the country.” In December the government launched a new anti-immigrant public campaign. On December 21, UNHCR, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) “urged the government to refrain from policies and practices that promote intolerance and fear, and fuel xenophobia against refugees and migrants.”
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status, but the new system introduced by the government during the year failed to provide full protection to refugees.
Based on the laws adopted on September 4, the government opened four new official “transit zones” for administering asylum applications along the Serbia and Croatia borders (in Roszke, Tompa, Beremend, and Letenye). These transit zones, operated by the BAH, are responsible for assessing the eligibility of the asylum applicants based on safe country of origin and safe third-country provisions and transferring eligible cases to an assessment proceeding within eight days. Once the application enters the assessment phase, the applicant is permitted to enter the country’s territory and becomes eligible for services the government provided asylum seekers. If the BAH rejects the application in the assessment phase, the applicant is immediately expelled but has seven days to appeal the decision in court, where judges or court clerks issue a legally binding ruling in eight days. Under the new system, courts may only quash administrative decisions and refer the applicants back to the BAH for a new procedure. They have no authority to change the decision. Prior to the new law, judges had the direct authority to rectify errors by changing administrative decisions and granting refugee status or subsidiary protection to asylum seekers.
The new rules exempt “asylum seekers with special needs” (such as unaccompanied minors, elderly, disabled persons, pregnant women, single parents with children, and victims of torture) from the admissibility border procedure, and such applicants enter immediately the assessment phase of the asylum process, at which point their applications are reviewed on the merits.
On September 17, the UN high commissioner for human rights characterized the newly adopted asylum regulation package as “incompatible with the human rights commitments binding on Hungary.” He stated, “This is an entirely unacceptable infringement of the human rights of refugees and migrants. Seeking asylum is not a crime, and neither is entering a country irregularly.”
The HHC criticized various elements of the new regulations. According to the HHC, the judicial review of asylum cases is ineffective due to the short deadlines for submitting an appeal and for the judges to make a decision, lack of automatic suspension on most removal measures, no mandatory personal interview in the judicial phase, and limiting the authority of the court to administrative decisions. The NGO also criticized the lack of permanent access to professional legal advice in the transit zones, the rejection of the HHC lawyers’ request to access the area, and the lack of a formal protocol to identify vulnerable asylum seekers to exempt them from admissibility border procedures.
On June 17, the government ordered the installation of a 105-mile-long, 13-foot-high “temporary border control fence” to stop irregular refugees and migrants from crossing the green border between Hungary and Serbia, finishing construction by September 15. The government installed a similar fence along the border with Croatia by October 17. Human rights NGOs criticized the building of the fence, and UNHCR expressed concerns regarding measures that had the combined effect of limiting and deterring access to asylum in the country, most notably the erection of a fence along the country’s borders with Serbia and Croatia.
Prior to September 15, the installation of the fence on the Serbia border, a total of 199,829 illegal migrants arrived to the country through the green border and 4,694 arrived this way after the completion of the fence on this border section. After September 15 and before October 17, the installation of the fence along the Croatia border, 185,624 persons arrived to the country through the green border with Croatia and none after the completion of the fence.
On September 15, the same day the new asylum provisions entered into force and the government completed the security fence along the border with Serbia, the government announced a “mass migration crisis” in Bacs-Kiskun and Csongrad Counties for six months. On September 18, the government extended the mass migration crises to four additional counties.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the 2013 Dublin III regulation, which provides for the returning of asylum seekers to the first EU member state they entered for processing.
On July 21, the government issued lists of “safe countries of origin” and “safe third countries.” Both lists included EU member and candidate states (except for Turkey), member states of the European Economic Area, those states of the United States of America that do not apply the death penalty, Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. A government decree grants asylum seekers the right to prove in an asylum procedure that their country of origin does not meet the criteria for a safe country of origin in their individual case or that they did not have the opportunity for effective protection in a safe third country. The HHC, UNHCR and the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights repeatedly noted their objections against recognizing Serbia as a safe transit country.
After September 15, the BAH received 579 asylum applications on the Serbia border, which rejected 50 based on inadmissibility due to safe country of origin and safe third-country provisions.
Refoulement: The government did not send asylum seekers back to conflict zones where their lives or freedom would be at risk; however, the HHC criticized the government for sending migrants and asylum seekers from conflict zones back to Serbia. According to UNHCR, Serbia lacked a functioning asylum system, thus the return of asylum seekers to Serbia may result in their exposure to inhuman treatment and refoulement to other unsafe countries.
Refugee Abuse: On September 16, in an incident widely covered by international media, police clashed for several hours with hundreds of asylum seekers and migrants who were stuck on the Serbian side of the border near Roszke after the government sealed the border with the security fence. Based on media reports and video footage, the crowd of migrants chanted slogans in Arabic and English with their fists in the air, kicked and eventually broke through the security fence, and threw bottles and stones at the police from the Serbian side. Hungarian police fired water cannon over the fence at the crowd, temporarily dispersing it. Police later withdrew from the fence, including the water cannon, making it possible for the asylum seekers to enter Hungarian territory through the broken fence. Many asylum seekers believed that Hungarian authorities had actually allowed the entry and walked through the border. After the majority of the group arrived to Hungarian territory, however, police started beating the crowd with batons and fired tear gas grenades, which reportedly injured many, including families, children, and foreign journalists. The majority of the crowd turned and fled back through the fence into Serbia; many, including children, suffered the effects of the tear gas. According to NGO and media reports, 14 police officers and approximately 300 migrants and asylum seekers were injured during the clashes, including 30 children who were tossed over the border fence by their parents and seven journalists covering the situation. Authorities reportedly detained 22 persons, 15 of whom were charged with illegal entry and participating in a riot.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the use of tear gas against the migrants and asylum seekers as unacceptable. On September 17, the UN high commissioner for human rights characterized the police action as “callous, and in some cases illegal” and in some cases amounting to “clear violations of international law.” On November 12, a parliamentary committee declined a request to investigate the incident. On November 18, the ombudsman rejected the October 13 petition of the HHC requesting the investigation of the incident in Roszke based on lack of competence and transferred the HHC report to the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office and the National Police chief, who later also transferred it to the Counter Terrorist Center. The HHC criticized the ombudsman’s decision, and the case remained pending.
Throughout June and July, as the number of migrants entering the country steadily increased, NGOs began to criticize the lack of humanitarian response from the government, particularly at locations like Budapest’s Keleti rail station, where migrants had made temporary encampments. In response to the lack of government action, NGOs distributed food and clothing donations, and new aid organizations were formed by concerned citizens through social media. In August the Budapest municipal government began providing drinking water, toilets, showers, increased security, and working space for NGOs at major rail stations.
On September 21, the parliament passed a law authorizing the armed forces to use nonlethal force in maintaining order at the country’s borders. The law permits soldiers to use instruments of coercion suitable for causing physical injury, but only with nonlethal intent. Soldiers received police power (they may ask for identification, capture and detain individuals, examine clothing, packages, and vehicles, and take measures against foreigners) and may use firearms if not directed at killing others. In addition the law authorizes police to pursue secret service activity abroad to uncover acts threatening the state border or linked to terrorism, including searching for people smugglers.
The law permits detention of asylum seekers under certain circumstances. The rules require that detention of asylum seekers be based on individual assessment and only occur absent alternative means to provide for the presence of the applicant at asylum proceedings. Judges must decide every 60 days whether to extend a decision to keep an illegal migrant in custody. The law provides that detention of asylum seekers may not exceed six months, or 30 days in case of families with children. Unaccompanied minors are exempted from asylum detention, and alternatives to detention (such as bail) must also be considered before ordering detention.
The law provides that irregular migrants in an expulsion procedure (including rejected asylum seekers) can be placed in immigration detention, which may not exceed 12 months, or 30 days for families with children. Unaccompanied minors are exempted from immigration detention. Immigration detention is subject to periodic judicial review. The new regulations effective from September 15 make the acts of crossing the border illegally through the security fence, damaging the fence, or hindering the construction of the fence punishable by imprisonment. Authorities usually put convicted illegal border crossers in immigration detention in preparation for their expulsion.
During the year 2,393 asylum seekers (1.4 percent of the asylum applicants) were placed in asylum detention or alien-policing detention facilities, according to the government (6,109 in 2014, which constituted 14.3 percent of all asylum applicants). The Helsinki Committee and Human Rights Watch reported that the government held hundreds of asylum seekers in asylum detention while their cases were being adjudicated, in special asylum detention centers, immigration detention centers, and in some cases in regular prisons. Through the end of the year, authorities prosecuted 978 persons for crossing the border illegally through the security fence and two persons for damaging the fence along the Serbia border.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (“subsidiary protection” and “tolerated status”) to individuals who did not qualify as refugees. The law defines subsidiary protection as protection provided to foreigners who do not satisfy the criteria of recognition as a refugee if there is a risk that, in the event of their return to their country of origin, they would be exposed to “serious harm.” The law also provides that the BAH may authorize persons to stay in the country by granting them “tolerated status” for one year (extendable) consistent with the country’s nonrefoulement obligations under international law.
During the year the BAH received 177,135 refugee claims (the majority from Syria, Iraq, and Kosovo nationals) and granted 146 persons refugee status, 356 persons subsidiary protection status, and six persons tolerated status.