In UNHCR’s view, legislation and related Decrees adopted by Hungary in July and September 2015, and progressively implemented between July 2015 and 31 March 2016, have had the combined effect of limiting and deterring access to asylum in the country. These include, most notably, the following.
(a) the erection of a fence along Hungary’s borders with Serbia and Croatia, accompanied by the introduction of a procedure in which individuals arriving at the border who wish to submit an asylum application in Hungary must do so in special “transit zones” in which the asylum procedure and reception conditions are not in accordance with European Union (EU) and international standards, in particular concerning procedural safeguards, judicial review and freedom of movement. (See Section D below). In addition, the government plans to erect a fence along the Romanian-Hungarian border beginning at the Serbian-Hungarian-Romanian triple border.
(b) the application of the ‘safe third country’ concept to countries on the principal route followed by asylum-seekers to Hungary – namely Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia – without adequate procedural safeguards, and despite the fact that no other EU Member State applies a presumption of safety to those countries 6 and that UNHCR.
(c) the criminalization of irregular entry into Hungary through the border fence, punishable by actual or suspended terms of imprisonment of up to ten years – and/or the imposition of an expulsion border. Prison sentences, at variance with the EU Return Directive, are imposed following fast-tracked trials of questionable fairness, and are not suspended in the event that the concerned individual submits an asylum application. The proper consideration of a defence under Article 31 of the 1951 Convention that the individual had come directly from a territory where his or life or freedom was threatened in the sense of Article 1 of that Convention is thus prevented.
There has also been a reduction of permanent open reception capacity for asylum-seekers through the closure of the centre in Debrecen, which had been the largest open asylum reception centre in the country, at the very time when substantially increased reception capacity for asylum-seekers is needed and the opening of an asylum detention centre in Kiskunhalas. These measures and development should also be considered in the context of the wider use of detention in generally inadequate conditions based on previous laws and practices adopted prior to the period covered by this paper.
In conclusion, UNHCR considers these significant aspects of Hungarian law and practice raise serious concerns as regards compatibility with international and European law, and may be at variance with the country’s international and European obligations.