United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Hungary, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bb60.html [accessed 21 February 2017]
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During 1996, 152 Europeans applied for refugee status with the Hungarian Office of Refugee and Migration Affairs. UNHCR determined the refugee status of another 515 non-European asylum seekers during the year, recognizing 106 persons as mandate refugees. On January 15, 1996, the Hungarian government discontinued its policy of granting temporary protection to asylum seekers arriving from the former Yugoslavia, except for cases of family reunification. The decision, adopted in response to the Dayton Peace Accords, led to a substantial decrease in the number of new arrivals accorded temporary protection in Hungary: from 4,425 persons in 1995, to 65 new arrivals in 1996. During 1996, Hungary granted refugee status to 66 Europeans. Although a 1996 breakdown by country origin was not available, all 43 European applicants granted refugee status during the first half of 1996 reportedly came from the present Yugoslavia. During 1996, 42 applicants were denied refugee status, and the applications of 44 persons remained pending at year's end. For many asylum seekers and migrants in recent years, Hungary has been a leading country of transit to Western Europe. Increasingly, they have turned to smugglers in the attempt to reach points farther west. IOM estimates that about 135,000 unauthorized migrants transited Hungary from 1993 to 1994. IOM estimated that roughly 30 percent employed smugglers. For some, the trip cost them their lives. In May 1996, eight ethnic Albanians drowned while crossing the Danube River from Hungary into Slovakia. In the summer of 1995, 18 Sri Lankans died in the 140-degree heat of a sealed truck container after its air conditioning failed. The Asylum Procedure When it acceded to the UN Refugee Convention in 1989, Hungary included a geographic reservation limiting its applicability to refugees originating from within Europe. Under Hungarian law, asylum seekers from outside Europe have no legal status. Since 1989, the Hungarian government has promised several times to rescind the geographical reservation and pass comprehensive asylum legislation, but had not done so by the end of 1996. Faced with mounting criticism from Hungarian nongovernmental organizations for the delays, the government announced in December 1996 that it would expedite asylum legislation with the aim of adopting a new law by June 1997. With the geographical reservation still in place in 1996, UNHCR continued to bear primary responsibility for assisting non-European asylum seekers and refugees. Under an informal and unwritten 1989 agreement between the Hungarian government and UNHCR, non-European asylum seekers were referred to, or sought out UNHCR, which exclusively determined their refugee claims. The Hungarian government's geographical reservation has led to practical difficulties for non-European asylum seekers and refugees living in Hungary. In an April 25, 1996 letter to the Hungarian interior ministry, a group of non-European asylum seekers representing 200 to 300 similarly situated persons complained that, although many had lived in Hungary for up to four years, they could not secure permanent legal status or education for their children, and lacked possibilities for integration. UNHCR does not pursue third-country resettlement for persons it recognizes as refugees in Hungary. European asylum seekers must claim asylum within 72 hours of arrival in Hungary or within 72 hours of the event that caused them to seek asylum. Hungarian law requires border guards to refer all asylum seekers to a bureau of the refugee office, which must issue a decision within 30 days. Recognized refugees receive one year, renewable permits that allow them to stay and work in Hungary. Appeals of negative decisions must be filed within five days of the denial. The Office of Refugee and Migration Affairs must issue an appeals decision within 30 days. Further appeals are also possible through the courts. Deportation On April 22, 1996, an amendment to the Aliens Act entered into force, requiring the Aliens Police to seek the opinion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on human rights conditions in a person's country of origin prior to carrying out his or her repatriation. Nevertheless, during the year, several Hungarian NGOs and Amnesty International accused the Hungarian authorities of deporting asylum seekers often to third countries without properly considering the risks of refoulement or the possibility of torture or other serious mistreatment. The Hungarian authorities deported 4,568 persons during the first half of 1996. In early December 1996, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee charged the authorities with beating a group of ten Iraqi asylum seekers and deporting them to Damascus without a proper review of safety conditions in Syria or the risks they faced if returned to Iraq. The Hungarian government denies the alleged mistreatment. UNHCR also reported that it had reviewed and rejected the Iraqis' claims to refugee status prior to their removal. UNHCR nevertheless takes the position that rejected Iraqi asylum seekers should not be repatriated. Readmission Agreements In May 1996, Hungary and Slovenia began implementing a readmission agreement signed in 1992. Hungary and France also signed a bilateral readmission agreement on December 17, 1996. In addition, Hungary has signed readmission agreements with Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Switzerland, and Ukraine. These agreements do not specifically take into account the special situation of asylum seekers, but apply generally to the return of nationals of the contracting states or third-country nationals who entered the territory of a contracting state illegally. In 1995, UNHCR recommended that third countries not return non-European asylum seekers to Hungary, as there was no guarantee that they would receive effective protection there. Former Yugoslavs The Office of Refugee and Migration Affairs reported that 1,047 former Yugoslavs voluntarily repatriated during 1996. Of this figure, 845 persons returned under repatriation programs organized by UNHCR, IOM, and Prezivjeti Zimu, a Hungarian non-governmental organization. Some 202 individuals returned independently. The Office of Refugee and Migration Affairs reported to USCR that it supports the voluntary and safe repatriation of the former Yugoslavs to whom it has granted temporary protection. At the end of 1996, 4,706 former Yugoslavs remained registered in Hungary as recipients of temporary protection. An additional 20,000 unregistered former Yugoslavs were estimated to remain in the country. Over the protests of some camp residents, the Hungarian government closed its main camp in Nagyatad for refugees from the former Yugoslavia in early September 1996. The government reported the closure was a cost-cutting measure. About 800 of the Nagyatad camp's residents had repatriated between January and September. When the Nagyatad camp population dropped to about 500, the government decided to consolidate the remaining refugees in Debrecen refugee camp in north-eastern Hungary. Many of the transferred residents were waiting for travel papers from the Bosnian and Croatian governments in order to repatriate.