Last Updated: Friday, 23 September 2016, 14:58 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Hungary

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Hungary , 20 June 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b31e1631e.html [accessed 26 September 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, Hungary hosted about 4,200 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 3,296 asylum seekers with pending cases, 197 granted refugee status during the year, and 680 individuals "authorized to stay."

During 2000, a total of 7,802 persons applied for asylum in Hungary, down 32 percent from the 11,499 asylum seekers who applied in 1999. The largest groups of asylum seekers originated from Afghanistan (2,185), Bangladesh (1,656), Iraq (889), Yugoslavia (692), and Sri Lanka (249).

In 2000, Hungary granted asylum to 197 persons, a 5 percent approval rate. Authorities granted an additional 680 individuals authorization to stay. Some 2,930 persons, representing 2,535 cases, were denied asylum and other statuses in 2000. During the year, some 4,916 applications were discontinued, mainly because the applicants failed to appear.

Asylum Procedure

In January, the Hungarian government established the Office for Immigration and Naturalization (OIN) within the Ministry of the Interior. The OIN took over the processing of asylum claims from the Office of Refugee and Migration Affairs (ORMA). It also assumed responsibility for nationality/citizenship issues; refugees (including the administration of government-run reception centers and the first-instance asylum procedure); and aliens policing issues, from visa issuance to expulsions. The OIN is responsible for drafting legislation to align Hungarian law further with European Union (EU) standards.

Under its 1998 asylum law, Hungary lifted its geographical limitation of the UN Refugee Convention, which had excluded refugees originating from outside Europe for asylum consideration. In September 1999, an "Anti-Mafia law" to combat "illegal" migration took effect, amending Hungary's aliens law and the asylum law.

Asylum seekers arriving by air must submit their applications immediately upon arrival, while asylum seekers arriving by other means have no deadline for filing a claim. OIN interviews claimants within five days of submission of their asylum application. After interviewing the applicant, the OIN forwards the file to the National Security Office (NSO), which offers an opinion on the case within 30 to 45 days.

The Hungarian authorities should issue an asylum decision within 90 days of receiving the application. However, the 1999 backlog of 2,653 increased by 24 percent by the end of 2000 despite a 30 percent drop in asylum applications.

The authorities may grant refugee status or two other types of protection – authorization to stay and temporary protection. The OIN grants authorization to stay to individuals who may face capital punishment, torture, or other inhumane treatment upon repatriation. Such permits last for one year, after which the OIN reviews the case for possible renewal.

The 1998 legislation authorizes the government to grant temporary protection on a group basis to victims of foreign aggression, civil war, ethnic conflicts, and grave human rights violations in the country of origin. The government determines situations for which it will offer temporary protection. Hungary did not grant any nationality temporary protection in 2000.

The OIN must consider the NSO's opinion in issuing a first-instance decision on an asylum application. The NSO may appeal an OIN decision in which its opinion has been ignored.

The denied applicant may appeal the OIN's decision in local courts, but not to a higher central authority. In practice, the courts make most decisions based exclusively on written documents, although the applicant's representative may request an oral hearing. Courts must render a decision within 15 days of the appeal. Under the 1999 legislation, asylum seekers cannot be deported while awaiting an appeal decision.

During the asylum procedure, asylum seekers reside either in OIN-run open reception centers or closed detention centers run by the National Border Guards. Under the 1999 "Anti-Mafia" legislation, the OIN must request permission from the aliens police to transfer an asylum seeker from a closed facility to an open reception center, and undocumented aliens may be detained for a maximum of eighteen months.

In December 2000, Hungary's parliamentary ombudsman for human rights published a report suggesting that detention facilities should have an external specialized authority, instead of the present National Border Guard, to supervise and monitor hygiene and health conditions. To comply with the 1999 anti-mafia legislation, the government reportedly renovated and improved conditions in detention centers in 2000. Some 600 people were detained per month in 2000, compared with 900 per month in 1999.

Conversely, conditions in reception centers deteriorated further due to lack of proper maintenance. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have reported poor conditions in the closed shelters, including serious overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, a lack of educational and recreational facilities, and inadequate separation of facilities by gender.

Recognized refugees receive permanent identity cards and the same social benefits as Hungarian nationals. Recognized refugees are also eligible for additional integration assistance. In coordination with UNHCR, NGOs also provide job counseling, language training, and other assistance to ease the integration process. The Hungarian authorities issue identity cards and work permits to persons "authorized to stay." They are housed in reception centers and receive renewable travel documents.

In March, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) started a voluntary return program in Hungary, providing transport, travel documents, escort for minors or medical cases, and reintegration allowances to asylum seekers wishing to go back to their home countries.

Barriers to Asylum

Despite improvement in Hungary's asylum procedure in recent years, problems remain. The asylum law outlines exclusion and cessation clauses that generally go beyond the scope of those included in the UN Refugee Convention. Article 47 of the asylum law allows the aliens police and border guards to prepare to deport asylum applicants who are awaiting status determinations.

UNHCR continued to express concern that Hungarian authorities sometimes deny asylum and authorization to stay to asylum seekers unable to establish their identity or provide documentary evidence supporting their claims. While Hungary does extend these asylum seekers protection against refoulement under Article 32(1) of the aliens law, they do not receive the same social benefits as recognized refugees.

The 1998 asylum law introduced an accelerated procedure for applications deemed "manifestly unfounded." Hungary considers applications manifestly unfounded if the applicant makes no reference to persecution or fear of persecution in the asylum application, refuses to establish his or her identity or citizenship, or supplies a false document and insists it is genuine.

In the accelerated procedure, the OIN must examine and render a decision for a case within seven days. The NSO is required to provide an opinion within five days. A denied asylum seeker has three days to file an appeal.

The 1998 asylum legislation also included an accelerated airport procedure for asylum seekers arriving from "safe third countries" and "safe countries of origin." Hungary does not employ an official list of safe countries of origin or safe third countries. Instead, individual asylum officers judge when safe country principles should apply. According to UNHCR, the principles are rarely applied.

Under the airport procedure, OIN interviews the applicant and makes an immediate decision on whether to grant or deny entry. As in the accelerated procedure, a rejected asylum seeker has three days to file an appeal. In 2000, some 48 asylum seekers had their claims rejected under the accelerated procedure.

A December 1999 report by the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights found conditions for asylum seekers at Budapest's International Airport to be poor. Asylum seekers do not receive adequate legal counsel at the airport, the report said, adding that the Hungarian authorities consider the transit zone to be outside Hungarian territory, enabling them to deny asylum seekers due process rights. The commission recommended changing this legal interpretation so that the airport transit zone would be considered Hungarian territory.

Although UNHCR reported that Hungarian authorities generally grant asylum seekers access to the asylum procedure and allow them to remain in the country pending appeals, the agency nevertheless cautioned other countries against returning asylum seekers to Hungary during 1999, because of the lack of legal safeguards.

According to a nationwide survey commissioned by UNHCR, almost 40 percent of 1,500 Hungarian respondents called themselves "openly xenophobic" compared to 30 percent in 1999. Some 38 percent of respondents to the survey said they "would seal Hungary's borders from all immigrants." During the year, an NGO, the Martin Luther King Society, reported that skinheads had attacked Nigerian, Vietnamese, and Indian asylum seekers in Budapest. However, the group said that the number of reported racist crimes in 2000 was lower than in previous years.

Hungarian border guards made increasing efforts during the year to detain undocumented migrants, allegedly apprehending some 40,000 of an estimated 60,000 undocumented migrants who entered the country during the year. According to press reports, the volume of people trafficked through Hungary has doubled every year since 1995. In 2000, the EU invested some $63 million toward new computerized systems and increased resources to guard Hungary's 1,050 miles of borders. In 1999, 42 percent of those arriving in the country came "illegally." In 2000, more than 80 percent arrived without legal documentation.

Press reports documented the dangers of traveling clandestinely into Hungary. In April, 13 Afghan and Pakistani migrants drowned trying to cross the Tisza River in a dinghy between the Ukraine and Hungary border, highlighting the danger of the journey. In July, an investigation by the border guard directorate at Balassagyamat reported that trafficked migrants at Alag camp in northern Hungary had been held in "concentration camp-like" conditions by human smugglers since 1999. Border guards who interviewed the migrants said that smugglers had tortured and extorted money from them.

Yugoslavs

After Kosovo's descent into open conflict in 1998 and 1999, the number of Yugoslav asylum seekers entering Hungary increased once more. However, in 2000, only 692 Yugoslav citizens (including Kosovo Albanians) applied for asylum in Hungary, down 85 percent from the 4,783 who applied in 1999.

During the year, the OIN granted refugee status to ten persons from Yugoslavia and authorization to stay to 356 persons. Some 594 Yugoslavs were reported as discontinuing their refugee status determination procedure during the year. The OIN also withdrew refugee status from six Yugoslavs and withdrew authorization-to-stay status from 543, mainly because of their voluntary repatriation.

In 2000, Hungary continued to deny full refugee status to conscientious objectors from Yugoslavia, except in one case closely followed by UNHCR. In March, the Budapest Capital Court overturned an OIN decision to reject a Yugoslav asylum seeker's claim based on conscientious objection. The OIN grants most Yugoslav conscientious objectors a renewable authorization-to-stay status for one year.

Hungary did not authorize temporary protection for Kosovo Albanians. The authorities accommodated Kosovo Albanians traveling with valid travel or identification documents in open refugee reception centers. NGOs housed some traveling without documents, while other Kosovo refugees arranged private accommodations. At least 67 Kosovo Albanians repatriated in 2000.

Roma

Human Rights Watch described Hungary's treatment of Roma as "rampant discrimination" in 2000. The government failed to address Roma rights in all areas of society and enacted discriminatory new legislation in May that made it easier to evict Roma from their homes.

In July, a group of Roma families from Zamoly in western Hungary traveled to France to seek asylum and lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg about the human rights abuses they had suffered in Hungary. Their complaint charged that the Zamoly municipal government had illegally destroyed their homes, and that their fear of racist attacks prevented them from living in new housing built as a replacement. The case received widespread media attention during the year, albeit negative, by Hungarian broadcasters who claimed the Zamoly Roma "threatened Hungary's reputation abroad." Hungarian television and radio reported widely on the attempted extradition of one of the Zamoly Roma who was alleged to have been involved in a murder in Hungary, seemingly in an effort to discredit the group.

Widespread discrimination and prejudice led many Hungarian Roma to seek asylum abroad.

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