Asylum-seekers rest in their room in the Debrecen Reception Centre, Hungary. Photo: UNHCR/Béla Szandelszky

Is Hungary Manufacturing a Migrant Crisis?

Expressing deep concern over how migration and migrants themselves are being politicized and scapegoated in Hungary, an independent United Nations (UN) human rights expert has urged the Hungarian government to immediately end its “crisis” approach to the issue.

Felipe González Morales, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, recently visited the country and said the migrants are being portrayed as “dangerous enemies” in both official and public discourse.

He stressed that he had seen groups of “desperate, traumatized and helpless men, women, boys and girls confined behind razor wire fence in the transit zones.”

Following a massive influx of migrants in 2015, anti-migration discourse in Hungary has become pervasive in both official and public spheres. Government-run campaigns have associated migrants with security threats, including terrorism.

González Morales especially voiced concern over asylum procedure and the transit zones, and said that Hungary had played up a “crisis situation due to mass immigration” in parts of the country in September 2015 and later expanded the scope of it nationwide in March 2016; a situation which still prevails today.

“I strongly recommend Hungary to re-evaluate its current reality in relation to migration, terminate immediately the so-called crisis situation and lift relevant restrictive measures,” he said.

He also urged Hungary to end the administrative detention of children, underscoring that “detention is never in the best interests of the child.”

Under existing laws in Hungary, migrants and asylum seekers who are undocumented, are immediately detained in transit zones during the asylum procedure, or until they can be sent back to their country of origin.

In May, a UN spokesperson said that once the Hungarian authorities begin proceedings to expel “rejected” applicants, they stop being given food, sometimes for as long as five days.  Hungarian authorities had promised to end this practice following an interim measure by the European Court of Human Rights, but UN reports suggest there has been no change.

In October 2018, the Hungarian government introduced its “Stop Soros” law, which imposes further restrictions on the right to seek asylum, and making it practically impossible for asylum seekers to submit asylum claims and regularize their migratory status.

The law gets its name from billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, who Hungary’s ruling party accuse of encouraging mass immigration in order to undermine Europe. Soros denies that charge.

Under the legislation, individuals or organizations can also be sent to prison for “supporting and facilitating illegal immigration.” Additional laws levy a special 25 per cent tax on NGOs who engage in immigration activities.

Hungary has said it will not change this law even if instructed to do so by European courts.

Kylie Bielby has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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