There are legions of asylum seekers and, increasingly, decisions have to be reversed. So are complaining former employees of the Immigration Office who had left their jobs for these reasons. Often individual applications for refugee status were refused on the grounds that the applicant did not arrive from countries that were to the politicians’ liking. Some case offices are complaining about having to deal with so many cases that they cannot keep up with them anymore, while previously they would have recognised each applicant by face.
12 994 people
This is the number of the asylum seekers registered in Hungary between January and April this year. Last year the number within the same interval was 40 thousand, while in 2011 there were only 1693 applicants throughout the entire year.
Apart from the number of asylum seekers, there has been some other changes in these six years: while in 2011 no one cared about the refugees coming to Europe, today they provide the basis of government policies. Ruling politicians do not welcome refugees in Hungary, rather they find them dangerous. Viktor Orbán, the prime minister, some weeks ago went as far as to say refugees need to be kept out.
Yet, the rights of asylum seekers are guaranteed by international conventions. Developed countries have to accept those whose lives are threatened, or are the target of violence, in their home countries. In Hungary it is the job of the Office of Immigration and Nationality, the OIN, (Bevándorlási és Állampolgársági Hivatal, BÁH) to decide who should and who should not receive protection.
Abcúg had talked to several case officers of the OIN who for years had been dealing with and making decisions in asylum procedures but, recently, have given notice (all requested to remain anonymous). They said that in the last few years work conditions changed so that they no longer could fulfill their job with a clear conscience.
Another case officer added that in their opinion refugees left Hungary for a good reason. “If the conditions of reception are acceptable, if the refugee camp has food, medical provisions and hygienic conditions, then, there is less chance that the asylum seekers would want to move on towards Western Europe,” said the case officer. However, in the Hungarian camps the circumstances are inhuman; the camps are overcrowded, there is chaos everywhere, and the professional and personal attitude of the personnel is to a great extent mixed.
In Hungary there are several reasons for getting asylum. Refugee status can be given to those who come under the Geneva Convention grievances, for example if they are persecuted in their home countries for their race or religion, and the status of a person under subsidiary protection can be given to those whose lives could be in danger if they were to return home. The status of a person under subsidiary protection is weaker than that of the refugee, because it can be revoked any time and has to be reexamined every five years.
Who gets which status is determined by the OIN, after a person indicates their wish to apply for asylum to the Hungarian authorities. This happens nowadays in the transit zones by the border, or when the police collect migrants roaming the forests and fields. At this point their case gets transferred to a case officer who first interviews the asylum seeker and then decides whether that person can stay in Hungary.
To make a decision, first the case officer interviews the asylum seeker. Previously they would give hearing to someone at least twice but, according to one resigned official, they were free to invite an asylum seeker any amount of times. The point was to give enough time to the applicant to present what they had to say.
The logic behind the interviews is to provide an opportunity to applicants to explain why they are asking for protection. Yet, this is often far from simple, as not everyone is capable of putting their life conditions into words. “The applicants come from different countries, used to diverse sociocultural environments and different behavioural patterns. There is great variance in terms of people’s verbal skills,” explained one of the former case officers. On top of that, many come having experienced harsh traumas, so that it is essential that the officials spend enough time for earning their trust.
“This is a procedure that cannot be done on the conveyor belt, because you have to start with the assumption that every person is coming from a particular place with a particular story,” said another former case officer. If there is not enough time, their rights will be undermined, for they will not be able to put forward their need for protection convincingly. OIN workers also expressed their belief that this was important, since earlier the widespread perception was that “anyone who is in need should receive protection”.
Applications increased by hundreds
The asylum seeking process had been entirely transformed in the last 3–4 years, a fact that does not come as a surprise in light of the manifold increase in the number of applications to be processed. As opposed to the 1693 in 2011, there were 42 thousand asylum requests submitted in 2014 and 177 thousand in 2015.
A sound procedure lasted at least three months. During this period, while a preliminary hearing and, then, a detailed one was conducted, the opinion of the national security experts was asked and a decision was made. Meanwhile, the case officers got to know each individual asylum seeker to the extent that they would recognise and greet them on the streets even after many years.
According to another former case officer, official procedures were increasingly determined by policies and not by an assessment of the question whether an individual required protection. “The competent authorities wished to enforce political will in the case of certain countries of origin, such as Iraq and Afghanistan,” said one of the case officers.
We also approached the OIN. We wanted to know among other things how the asylum procedure changed in recent years, whether their case officers were overworked, how many of them resigned, how the government’s anti-immigration campaign affect their work and what were the conditions in the camps. The OIN wrote back saying that they will reply after the 30 days stipulated by the right to public information laws as deadline. We will publish their reply as soon as we will have received it.
What do the numbers say?
The OIN publishes statistics of the asylum procedures regularly on their website. However, from these numbers, it cannot be unequivocally established whether it has become harder or easier for an asylum seeker to gain refugee or “person under subsidiary protection” status.
Out of the 1,693 refugee applications of 2011, 623 were terminated, as two thirds of the applicants travelled on in the meantime, and all in all only 145 people got status.
According to last year’s data, out of the 177,135 applications 152,260 had to be terminated (as likely the applicant had travelled on), which adds up to 85 percent of all the applications. Last year 507 asylum seekers got either refugee- or the subsidiary protection-status. If we subtract the number of those who travelled on to Europe from the total number of applicants, the result is that, out of all genuine applications, in 2011 13 percent, while in 2015 only 2 percent got status in Hungary.
This still gives us a skewed picture, as each procedure takes many months to complete, so many will still be ongoing. The applicant’s country of origin is also a determining factor: in 2011 there were barely any Syrians among them, while in 2015 Syrians made up the largest portion of the 177 thousand applicants. They are regarded especially vulnerable due to the civil war raging in their country.
Thus, the only firm fact that can be established based on statistics is that, in the last one and a half years, a record number of refugees moved on from the country even before their procedures would have come to a conclusion.