United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Hungary, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8be3c.html [accessed 29 March 2017]
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At the end of 1997, Hungary hosted about 3,400 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 3,243 individuals from the former Yugoslavia with temporary status, 156 persons granted refugee status by both UNHCR and the Hungarian Office of Refugee and Migration Affairs (ORMA), and 9 European asylum seekers whose cases were pending an ORMA decision. During 1997, 177 Europeans applied for refugee status with ORMA. ORMA granted 24 individuals refugee status, 20 of whom were from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. UNHCR determined the status of another 888 non-European asylum seekers during the year, recognizing 132 persons as refugees, the overwhelming majority from Afghanistan and Iraq. Of the 3,243 former Yugoslavs with temporary protection in Hungary at year's end, 1,553 were from Croatia, 940 from Bosnia, and 750 from the present Yugoslavia. During 1997, 1,162 former Yugoslavs repatriated. Asylum Procedure After several years of false starts, the Hungarian parliament finally passed a new asylum law on December 7, 1997. At the same time, the parliament lifted its geographical reservation to the UN Refugee Convention, which had limited its applicability to refugees from within Europe. Both measures were to become effective on March 1, 1998. The legislation reportedly was inspired, in part, by Hungary's desire to meet European Union (EU) standards on asylum in preparation for Hungary's possibly joining the EU. With the lifting of Hungary's geographical reservation to the Refugee Convention, UNHCR's branch office in Budapest will transfer responsibility for adjudicating non-European refugee claims to ORMA. ORMA will automatically grant refugee status to UNHCR-recognized refugees after March 1, 1998. In addition, the new asylum law establishes two other tiers of protectiontemporary protection and tolerated status. The law foresees granting temporary protection to victims of foreign aggression, civil war, ethnic conflicts, and grave human rights violations in the country of origin. Hungary will grant toleration permits to claimants who do not meet the refugee definition but should not be repatriated because they face capital punishment, torture, or other inhumane and degrading treatment in their country of origin. The new asylum legislation also limits access to the asylum procedure for applicants arriving from "safe countries of origin" and "safe third countries," and establishes a fast-track procedure for "manifestly unfounded" claims. Applicants who provide false information during their status determination, violate the rules of the refugee reception center, or act of speak in ways that would make them fall within the refugee definition while in Hungary solely to obtain asylum may be denied refugee status. The new law provides that applicants denied in the airport procedure who file an appeal will not have their deportations suspended pending the outcome of their appeal, a provision UNHCR regarded with particular concern. With Hungary's geographical reservation to the Refugee Convention still in place during 1997, UNHCR had 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. European asylum seekers must make their asylum claim within 72 hours of arrival in Hungary or within 72 hours of the event that caused them to seek asylum. During 1997, the Hungarian authorities reportedly denied some European asylum seekers a hearing on the merits because they failed to meet the 72-hour filing deadline. Some applicants whom Austria and the United Kingdom returned to Hungary on safe third country grounds were not permitted to apply for asylum because they had spent more than 72 hours in Hungary when originally transiting the country. Language barriers and a lack of information on filing requirements have caused other asylum seekers to miss the filing deadline, resulting in their denial of access to the asylum procedure. Only applicants who demonstrated that serious obstacles, such as hospitalization, prevented them from applying within 72 hours received a waiver. Applicants could not appeal decisions to deny a hearing on the merits. Hungarian law requires border guards to refer all asylum seekers to ORMA, which must issue a decision within 30 days. Recognized refugees receive one-year, renewable permits and permission to work. Appeals of negative decisions must be filed within five days of the denial. OMRA must decide on appeals cases within 30 days. Further appeals are also possible through the courts. Readmission Agreements The Hungarian government signed readmission agreements with Germany, Italy, and Moldova during 1997, but had not received the parliament's ratification at year's end. The three agreements call for observance of the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. Hungary also has readmission agreements with Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Ukraine. With the exception of Germany, Italy and Moldova, Hungary's agreements do not specifically consider the situation of asylum seekers, but apply generally to the return of nationals of the contracting states or third-country nationals who entered either Hungary's or another state's territory illegally. In 1995, UNHCR recommended that third countries not return non-European asylum seekers to Hungary, because their protection could not be guaranteed.