Hungary: Change to Asylum Law puts tens of thousands at risk

A looming change in Hungary’s Asylum Law could put tens of thousands of asylum-seekers fleeing war and persecution at risk as the country continues to flout its obligations amid Europe’s burgeoning refugee crisis, Amnesty International said.

The amendment, which enters into force on 1 August, may lead to a situation in which any asylum-seeker who enters the country via its Balkan neighbours will be rejected and deported back. The Hungarian authorities are also constructing a four-metre-high fence along 175 km of the border with Serbia to prevent refugees and migrants from crossing.

Amnesty International is calling on Hungarian Parliamentarians to submit the legislation for review by the Constitutional Court.

“This is a thinly veiled attempt by Hungary to dodge its obligations under national and international law to assist asylum-seekers who have a globally recognized right to claim international protection,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International.

This is a thinly veiled attempt by Hungary to dodge its obligations under national and international law to assist asylum-seekers who have a globally recognized right to claim international protection.
John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director at Amnesty International

“It is not up to the authorities in Hungary – or any other country – to deny asylum-seekers access to an individual assessment of their claim. Hungary has an obligation to assist those who apply for asylum and treat each application on a case-by-case basis.”

Under the change, access to an asylum procedure could be denied to asylum-seekers who first pass through a list of countries the Hungarian authorities have deemed “safe”, including Serbia and Macedonia. Anyone who simply transited through those countries, regardless of their country of origin, could be rejected.

Hungary has seen a spike in anti-refugee rhetoric and actions following an increase in the number of migrants and asylum-seekers entering via the Balkans. According to the NGO Hungarian Helsinki Committee, as of 10 July 2015, 99% of those who have applied for asylum in Hungary since the beginning the year – or 86,000 people – entered the country through Serbia.

In a report released earlier this month, Amnesty International documented the devastating consequences for migrants and asylum-seekers traveling through the Balkans. The asylum systems in Macedonia and Serbia are ineffective and fail to guarantee international protection to those in need.

Failures in the implementation of Serbia’s Asylum Law have resulted in the majority of asylum applications being suspended or discontinued. This places large numbers of people at risk of being sent onwards to Macedonia and Greece. In 2014, out of 388 asylum applications in Serbia, refugee status was granted to only one person – a Tunisian national –and five Syrians were afforded subsidiary protection due to the ongoing armed conflict in their home country.

“This situation is simply untenable – countries in Europe’s borderlands are facing an unprecedented flow of migrants and asylum-seekers, but passing them from pillar to post is not a solution and does not absolve countries like Hungary and Serbia of their legal obligations,” said John Dalhuisen.

This situation is simply untenable – countries in Europe’s borderlands are facing an unprecedented flow of migrants and asylum-seekers, but passing them from pillar to post is not a solution and does not absolve countries like Hungary and Serbia of their legal obligations.
John Dalhuisen

Background

Following the adoption of an Amendment to the Asylum Law by the National Assembly in June, the Hungarian government issued a decree on 21 July specifying the lists of the “safe countries of origin” and “safe third countries”. They include EU Member States, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Member States of the European Economic Area, states of the USA that have abolished the death penalty, Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In July, the National Assembly adopted another Amendment of the Asylum Law, clarifying that the asylum applications of nationals of designated “safe countries of origin” will be decided in an expedited procedure. The applications of asylum-seekers coming through “safe third countries” will be declared inadmissible. This Amendment will enter into force on 1 August.

The blanket refusal of asylum applications submitted by people who travelled through these countries can result in refoulement, the unlawful return of persons who would be at risk of serious human rights violations.