In a nutshell, without a word of exaggeration: the law amendment changes an already ill-functioning national asylum system into a physically isolated, fenced off container camp area at the Southern border, and allows for the authorities to keep the rest of the country ‘clean’ of people seeking protection. The camp area will be a center for processing and managing its people regardless of who they are, where are they coming from, how old they are or what they need. The same in facts: the amendment legalizes detention for all asylum seekers, including children in families and unaccompanied minors over 14. The law will also allow for a ‘collection’ of asylum seekers from all around the country (more on that below). The timeframe for appealing a negative asylum decision is now shortened, from the already extremely short deadlines, to three calendar days, and asylum applications can now be rejected also based on “not cooperating” with the authorities, in which case the case will be closed and the person will be pushed to Serbia with no way to appeal the decision. In case of a negative decision, the asylum seeker should also pay for their own detention, such as accommodation and food, to the Hungarian state. The new amendment also makes it possible to apply for asylum only through the transit zones which is extremely problematic considering the fact that only five people per working day are allowed to access a transit zone from Serbia and waiting times are around one year at the moment.
What does this mean in practice?
For those who arrive to the Hungarian border with the intent of applying for asylum, or come to the Hungarian territory to do so, the law changes make receiving international protection even harder than before and in significantly bad conditions. Firstly, you can apply for asylum only in the transit zones: even if you cross the border from Ukraine and go to the police right there to leave an asylum application, you will be taken through the country to the Southern Border of Hungary and most likely end up in Serbia. There, on the field, you can queue for the transit zone if you wish to. The Hungarian police now has the right to catch any third country national in the territory of Hungary who does not have some sort of residence permit for Hungary (for travel, studies, or already existing international protection status) and take them to the transit zone. For those who come from Serbia and try to enter the transit zone, technically and legally it should be possible to apply for asylum in Hungary, but we must not forget that in practise it almost does not happen at all: getting into a transit zone is a devastatingly long and random process because only 25 people are taken into the zones per week (no work on the weekends) while there are thousands (more than 7800 according to UNHCR) of people stuck in Serbia. Therefore, if you queue for getting into the transit zone, you should wait between several months to a year to get in. If you do get it, you face the fact that most applications are systematically rejected based on the pragmatic idea of the Hungarian government that Serbia has a functioning asylum system (it does not) and therefore is a safe country for asylum. When you are rejected based on this argument, you have three days to appeal the decision - now the weekends count as well, so leaving an appeal is made extremely difficult. And because this is not enough, also those unfortunate people who have passed through Hungary earlier, continued towards other EU countries to seek asylum, but will be deported back to Hungary due to the Dublin III regulation, will also be jailed at the transit zones in the case they are actually returned here.
We must not forget that during these procedures, asylum seekers will be detained in massive exit-only container camps of size of hundreds of people. Families with children will also be detained, as well as lone children who are 14 or older.
Why make such a legislation?
What is actually at stake here?
Finally, because we are so deep in the political discussion about razor wire, asylum applications, quotas and people as numbers, let’s just get the facts straight: an asylum seeker is not an illegal person. S/he is a person who has left an application for international protection to the officials of that country, and is in the country waiting for a decision for that application. Everybody has the right to enter a country without an official permission when they have the attempt of asking for asylum. These times when extreme measures on people’s lives are made in order to prove a political point of a government, it’s more important than ever to remember this, to think with your own brain and be critical about sources of information. The Hungarian government might want to try to twist and turn this text as well, but they cannot erase the fact that nobody is illegal.