Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2017, 11:48 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Hungary

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Hungary , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 19 October 2017]
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 1998, Hungary hosted 3,160 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 2,566 asylum seekers with pending cases, 362 granted refugee status during the year, and 232 individuals "authorized to stay" according to new criteria in the asylum law. Hungary did not grant temporary protection to anyone during 1998.

During 1998, a total of 7,118 persons applied for asylum in Hungary, nearly a seven-fold increase over the 1,065 asylum seekers who applied in 1997. The largest groups of asylum seekers originated from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (3,306), Afghanistan (1,077), Iraq (542), Bangladesh (337), and Algeria (314). The rise in the number of applicants stems from changes in the asylum law (described below) and a marked increase in the number of Yugoslav asylum seekers, primarily Kosovars.

In 1998, Hungary granted refugee status to 362 persons, representing 241 cases, an approval rate of 10.7 percent. Authorities granted an additional 232 individuals "authorization to stay" (see below). Some 2,790 persons, representing 1,990 cases, were denied asylum and other status in 1998, including 138 applicants in the accelerated procedure.

In June 1998, the Hungarian government passed a decree requiring all remaining ex-Yugoslavs granted temporary protection between 1992 and 1995 to leave Hungary by early 1999 or obtain other legal status.

Asylum Amendments

The Hungarian parliament passed new asylum legislation, effective on March 1, 1998. The legislation was inspired, in part, by Hungary's desire to meet European Union (EU) standards on asylum in preparation for its possible admission into the EU.

The parliament lifted its geographical reservation to the UN Refugee Convention, which had excluded refugees originating from outside Europe for consideration for asylum in Hungary. On March 1, the Hungarian Office of Refugee and Migration Affairs (ORMA) also assumed responsibility for processing the asylum claims of non-Europeans, a job that had previously fallen to UNHCR. The legislation allowed the ORMA to recognize as refugees all those who UNHCR had previously recognized, provided that they approached the authorities within 90 days of the new law's effective date.

In addition to Convention refugee status, the new asylum law establishes two other tiers of protection – authorization to stay and temporary protection. ORMA grants authorization to stay to individuals who may face capital punishment, torture, or other inhumane treatment upon repatriation. Authorization-to-stay permits last for one year, after which ORMA reviews the case for possible renewal.

The new 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 temporary protection will be offered.

The new 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.

Hungary drew criticism from NGOs during the first months of the new law's implementation. Personnel, interpreter, and facility shortages reportedly inhibited the authorities' ability to receive and adjudicate the claims of asylum seekers. The transfer of responsibility for non-European asylum seekers from UNHCR to the Hungarian authorities also did not proceed smoothly, with UNHCR adjudicating asylum claims past the March 1 deadline. Moreover, many of the refugees recognized earlier by UNHCR were not sufficiently informed of the consequences of the changes in the asylum law, most notably, a reduction in social assistance with the transfer of responsibility for supporting refugees from UNHCR to the Hungarian government.

Asylum Procedure

Asylum seekers arriving by air must submit their applications immediately upon arrival, while asylum seekers arriving by other means are under no deadline for filing a claim. Under the previous asylum law, all asylum seekers had been obligated to submit applications within 72 hours of arrival in Hungary.

ORMA interviews claimants within five days of the submission of their asylum applications. Though permitted, most asylum seekers do not have legal counsel during these interviews because legal representatives are rarely informed of the time of this initial hearing. After interviewing the applicant, ORMA forwards his or her file to the National Security Office (NSO), which offers an opinion on the case within 30 to 45 days.

ORMA must consider NSO's opinion in issuing a first-instance decision on an asylum application. NSO may appeal an ORMA decision in which its opinion has been ignored. By law, ORMA must communicate its decisions in writing and orally in a language understood by the applicant.

The denied applicant can appeal ORMA's decision in local courts, but not to a higher administrative authority. In practice, the court makes most decisions based exclusively on written documents, although the applicant's representative may request an oral hearing. The court must render a decision within 15 days of the appeal.

The new Asylum Act outlines 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, knowingly supplies false or misleading information about his or her identity or citizenship, or supplies a false document and insists it is genuine.

In the accelerated procedure, ORMA 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 may file an appeal with suspensive effect within three days of receiving the negative decision.

The new asylum legislation also includes an accelerated airport procedure for undocumented asylum seekers arriving from safe third countries and safe countries of origin. Under the airport procedure, ORMA interviews applicants and makes a decision immediately on whether to grant or deny entry. As in the accelerated procedure, a rejected asylum seeker has three days to file an appeal.

During the asylum procedure, most asylum seekers reside in one of three state-run reception centers, where NGOs provide legal counseling and interpretation services. Asylum seekers require permission from ORMA to leave the reception centers.

In the summer of 1998, some 70 percent of the asylum seekers housed in reception centers left, seeking asylum in Hungary's neighboring countries. Austria strongly criticized Hungary for failing to guard the borders properly. In response, Hungary transferred all undocumented asylum seekers (an estimated 90 percent of the total number) to community shelters run by border guards and no longer permitted asylum seekers to move about freely.

UNHCR and NGOs reported poor conditions in the community shelters, including serious overcrowding, unsanitary practices, a lack of educational and recreational activities, and inadequate separation of facilities by sex. Suicide attempts and break-outs were also reported. The UN Committee against Torture and the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights expressed their concerns about the quality of these border facilities for asylum seekers.

In addition to receiving the same social benefits as Hungarian nationals, recognized refugees are eligible for additional assistance intended to help them integrate into Hungarian society. In coordination with UNHCR, NGOs also provide assistance to ease the integration process, including job counseling and language training.

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.


With the descent of Yugoslavia's Kosovo province into civil war, the number of Yugoslav asylum applicants in Hungary sharply increased (3,306). Hungary also became a main transit country for many Kosovars attempting to reach Western Europe, particularly Germany.

Of the 1,107 Yugoslav asylum applicants who received a merits decision in 1998, ORMA granted refugee status to 201, an approval rate of 11 percent.

In September, 37 Kosovars occupied the Canadian Embassy in Budapest in a bid to pressure Canada into offering them asylum. Hungarian police evacuated the protesting Kosovo Albanians. During 1998, Hungary also received a small number of asylum applications from ethnic Hungarians from Yugoslavia who refused to fight in Kosovo.

Readmission Agreements

A readmission agreement with France, signed in 1996, came into force on December 30, 1998. Hungary concluded an agreement with Bulgaria on November 11, but it had yet to take effect by year's end. Hungary has also signed readmission agreements with Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Moldova, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Ukraine.

During 1998, Hungary readmitted 5,561 persons and returned 1,442 individuals to other countries based on readmission agreements. Hungary also concluded a bilateral cooperation agreement with the German Federal Refugee Office during 1998. ORMA also maintains a close working relationship with the Austrian Refugee Office. Both relationships represent Hungary's efforts to cooperate with EU and Schengen member states on asylum and refugee issues in preparation for possible accession to the European Union.

As part of that effort, Hungary is working to increase the effectiveness of its border guard service to control undocumented migration.


Hungary drew international criticism for its failure to protect minorities or address police brutality in 1998. Human rights groups reported violent attacks on foreigners and minorities, particularly the Roma. Widespread discrimination and prejudice led many Hungarian Roma to seek asylum abroad. During 1998, Canada granted refugee status in 153 cases of Hungarian Roma seeking asylum.

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