Hungary approves putting migrants in camps at border

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

© Laszlo Balogh / Reuters

Hungary’s parliament approved a set of measures greenlighting the automatic detention of all asylum-seekers in camps on the southern border. The legislation bars asylum-seekers from leaving the transit zones until their applications are processed.

The legislation, submitted by Interior Minister Sandor Pinter and approved by a large majority of lawmakers, strengthens existing asylum regulations, including the introduction of a state of emergency due to mass migration, Hungary Today reported.

A package of amendments approved by the parliament makes it easier to impose a state of emergency and “ensures no one can enter Hungary and the European Union without permission,” Pinter was quoted as saying.

Police will send illegal migrants back “to the other side of the fence” along Hungary’s border, Hungary Today reported, adding that this applies to migrants seized by police anywhere in the country.

Asylum-seekers entering Hungary, and those already in the country, will be detained or moved to the camps. The measure will prevent them from moving around Hungary or leaving the country while their applications are being processed. Asylum-seekers will only be allowed to leave the transit zones in the direction of Serbia or Croatia. The law exempts unaccompanied minors under 14, who will be placed under the care of Hungary’s child protection services.

“In the future, illegal immigrants must wait for the verdict on their asylum case in designated transit zones at the border,” the bill, published on the Hungarian parliament’s website, says, as cited by AFP.

Authorities also have the right to stop the asylum application process should the asylum-seeker refuse to have their fingerprints or photographs taken, Hungary Today reported.

The law reinstates Hungary’s practice of detaining asylum applicants, which it suspended in 2013 under pressure from human rights groups.

According to government figures, there have been 1,142 attempts to illegally enter Hungary along the Serbian border so far this year.

“The European security situation worsened significantly in 2015 and 2016 in view of acts of terrorism, but the Hungarian Government took timely action, as a result of which the Hungarian internal security situation is satisfactory,” Gyorgy Bakondi, the chief security adviser to the prime minister said earlier this year, adding that the Hungarian-Serbian border “is still under permanent pressure.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned during his State of the Nation Address last Tuesday that “there shall be no street violence or immigrant riots, there shall be no arson attacks on refugee camps, and gangs shall not hunt our wives and daughters.”

“The pressure on our southern borders is increasing,” he said.

“The impotence of Brussels is causing increasing chaos… We shall teach Brussels, the people smugglers and the migrants that Hungary is a sovereign country, and its territory can only be entered by those who will obey our laws and accept the authority of our law enforcement and military personnel,” the hardline prime minister noted.

Last week, Hungary began building a second border fence along its southern border with Serbia. The new fence is set to accompany a previously installed barbed wire barrier, which was erected in 2015 to run along the country’s border with Serbia – an overland route used by migrants fleeing to Germany.

Orban’s chief of staff, Janos Lazar, said that €120 million ($127 million) has been allocated to the construction of the fence and containment camps to hold migrants, Reuters reported.

The construction came under fire from rights groups.

“Using transit zones as detention centers and forcing asylum seekers who are already inside Hungary back to the Serbian side of the razor-wire fence is abusive, pointless, and cruel,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Director Benjamin Ward noted.

“The European Commission should not stand by while Hungary makes a mockery of the right to seek asylum,” he added, calling on the commission to act before Hungary “further undermines its asylum obligations under EU and international law.”

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