The amendments address various migration-related questions. This not only covers asylum legislation, but also residence permits and 3rd country nationals who come to Hungary to work for companies identified by the Hungarian government as “strategic economic partners” such as IBM, Tata, GE and Huawei. This move suggests that the Fidesz government does not actually have a problem with migrants, but rather only with a specific type of migrants: those who are fleeing persecution, conflicts and poverty fuelled by European policies. With these changes, the Hungarian government legalizes the discrimination of vulnerable groups and the favouritism of the rich groups institutionalizing inequalities within the population.
The changes related to asylum legislation are the most severe section of the draft amendments. They will affect those people who get their status after 1st April 2016. In turn, this means that the amended rules should not be applied to those people who already are refugees in Hungary. While we are against the amendments in their totality, we would like to point out that they further manifest a distinction that puts refugees in two classes: those have arrived before April 2016 and are eligible for integration support and will receive their statuses for a long time, whereas those that arrive after April 2016, who won’t. Also, the draft legislation is extremely vague on the question on exactly which sections of it will be applied retroactively and which ones will not.
Regarding people seeking protection, the most important changes in the legislation are the following:
- The amendments clearly outlines that those people who are deported back to Hungary because of the Dublin regulation can be detained.
- The space in detention centers is reduced as follows: previously, single men in detention were entitled to 15 m2 air space and 5m2 of personal moving space; now it will be only 6m3 air space and 3m2 personal moving space. For women, there is 3,5 m2 moving space. For families, the minimum space is 8 m2.
The position of Migszol is that detention is one of the most severe issues in Hungary at the moment. Testimonies from people who have been detained point to not only abysmal material and hygienic conditions, but also psychologically degrading treatment. For example, people who have stayed in detention for many months reported the lack of appropriate clothing, inadequate washing and sleeping facilities, or the prohibition of writing with pen and paper. It is also very serious that the people in detention can only use the internet for 10-15 minutes per day. This way, it becomes very difficult to stay in contact with one’s family, or to talk to anyone who is outside the prison and could help. Finally, Migszol strongly opposes the fact that vulnerable people including children in families can be detained at all: we find it morally condemnable in a country that is campaigning for family life, and notes that this practice is also in contradiction with EU regulation.
- For those people who get their refugee status (or the subsidiary “5-year” protection status, which we subsume under refugee status) after 1st of April 2016, the draft law says that their case can be re-examined every three years to see whether they still have the right to asylum. This can also happen when an “extraordinary request” is issued - but it is not specified by whom and for what purposes this request is to be made. Instead, the draft law mentions that this is a good “tool to check the depth of integration”. It is not specified anywhere what this can refer to or how “the depth” could be measured.
- Those people with the 5 year status will be reassessed for their eligibility for keeping their status after three years instead of five
- The Immigration Office also says that it can decide not to issue a travel document for people with a status in case of “national security or public order”, which, again, is not specified what exactly this is supposed to mean.
- Moving the vague “humanitarian status” to the asylum section of the legislation, and modifying its scope. Henceforth, this “status” is applied not only for one year but can be between six months and three years.
Based on years of work with migrants and refugees in Hungary, at Migszol we stress that the “depth of integration” has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not a person is in danger in her home country, and according to common sense and international and European law, it is the latter that is primary reason for ensuring their right to international protection. Instead, talking about the “depth of integration” seeks to shift the focus and fabricate “reasons” not to provide support to people fleeing existential hardships. This is even more troubling as the respective amendments also totally abolish any integration system and support for refugees.
We also think it is highly problematic to potentially deny people the right to a travel document, especially for a reason as vague as “threat to public order”. The amendments do not specify what public order stands for, and we are afraid that this can be used as a reason to hold back both travel documents as well as the necessary reasons for such a decision. According to international law, people recognized as refugees have the right to travel document. Thus, not giving them a travel document means that they will not be entitled to exercise their right of free movement within the Schengen zone. Instead, they will be trapped in Hungary where a common fate that awaits them is homelessness (also criminalized in the constitution) and forced public labor for an income beyond the minimum wage.
Migszol also states that the humanitarian status should not be used anymore in Hungary, as in essence it is very similar to the 5-year status. The difference of the humanitarian status is, among others, that it gives people much less rights to work.
Abolishment of all integration support
- People seeking protection will not be allowed anymore to work while they are in camps
- There will be no more monthly support (7125 HUF / 23 EUR) for people in refugee camps
- Asylum seeking families with children will no longer get benefit for enrolling the children to school
- Previously, when people received a status, they were allowed to stay in the camp for two months while they wait to receive their papers. Yet, as most people struggle to find housing afterwards (and the only support they receive comes from volunteers), many refugees become homeless after these two months. From now on, this situation will worsen even more, as they will be allowed to stay in the camp only for 30 days after they receive the status, which gives them even less time to find adequate accommodation. At the same time, as there is no more integration support, people with a status would not have the financial means to find accommodation, either.
- The whole system of the integration contract (the current governmental support for refugees, see details here) is cancelled for refugees and people under subsidiary protection.
- The Migration Office can retroactively ask back money that refugees have gotten from the state
- Before, after getting their status refugees and people under subsidiary protection were entitled to one year of free health insurance. This time will be decreased to six months.
The abolition of all integration support is one of the most serious parts of the new amendments. The responsible Ministry argues that these measures are abolished so that refugees will not get any more support than Hungarians, and that they will use all the same services. This is a populist move by the government to claim that refugees are not given any more support than other Hungarians. There are however several problems with the total elimination of integration support:
When saying that refugees have the same options as Hungarians, the government is suggesting that there would be a functioning system already. In fact, according to a recent research by Tarki, 47% of Hungarians live in poverty. Moreover, the government has not done anything to solve the very serious housing crisis in Hungary (you may find more information on Hungary’s housing crisis in here, and e.g. about the criminalization of homelessness in the Hungarian constitution in here). In addition, the low unemployment-percentage is because of the mandatory public labor-scheme, in which people doing a physically demanding full-time job for less than the minimum salary.
In principle, Migszol has nothing against the fact that refugees have the same system as Hungarians, if only refugees would have intensive, quality Hungarian language education in addition (which they did not have under the previous system either: free Hungarian classes for refugees were terminated in 2013). The main issue is that there is no functioning system for Hungarians either. In addition to not speaking Hungarian, refugees, just like any newcomers in any society, lack the social networks, and the familiarity and ability to navigate in the society’s bureaucratic system. Integration measures are crucial in order to ensure equality with Hungarians who have those skills, and abolishing those measures only means strengthening inequality.
Abolishing the right to work in the camps and the small but important cash allowances for refugees are equally serious measures, and sends a message from the beginning that refugees are not welcome in this country even if they work. Most refugees use the cash allowance for groceries as the food provided in the camp is very poor (just as it is in Hungarian hospitals and schools), for public transport tickets, or to buy coffee or cigarettes. Moreover, refugees will be banished to stay in the camp area as they will not have money for public transport anymore. This, however, is illegal in regards to the EU Reception conditions directive which states that “access to employment for an asylum seeker must now be granted within a maximum period of 9 months.”
Likely effects of the amendments
Given that the new draft law will effectively fill up detention centers and drive refugees to homelessness and destitution, it is more likely to result in more and more people to avoid Hungary. The overall goal of Migszol is to work towards a Hungary that would be a welcoming place for refugees and migrants: Yet, at this point we have no other option than to call upon all member states of European Union not only to vocally condemn this latest move in the Hungarian government’s war against refugees, but also to immediately stop all Dublin deportations to Hungary.
In the same time, we are very aware that the campaign against refugees that the Fidesz government is waging is a tool to advance Viktor Orban’s xenophobic agenda in the whole continent. His policies neatly fit in the latest European deals with Turkey that completely disregard international law and human rights. Domestically, it is used to divert attention from burning issues such as a crisis in education, housing and healthcare. It becomes clear not only that the recent events in and outside of Hungary are related, but also that the need to mobilize against the inhumane border-regime is getting increasingly urgent.