At the end of 2001, Hungary hosted about 2,900 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included about 2,400 asylum seekers with pending cases, 174 persons granted refugee status during the year, and almost 300 individuals "authorized to stay."
During 2001, a total of 9,554 persons applied for asylum in Hungary, up 22 percent from the 7,802 asylum seekers who applied in 2000. The largest groups of asylum seekers originated from Afghanistan (4,311), Bangladesh (1,514), Iraq (1,014), Somalia (298), and Sierra Leone (295).
More than half of the 174 persons granted asylum in 2001 were from Afghanistan (52) and Iraq (48). Authorities granted an additional 290 individuals authorization to stay, while 2,995 applicants were denied asylum and other statuses. Hungarian authorities granted 5 percent of the asylum cases decided.
Of 1,139 appeals considered by the Budapest Municipal Court during 2001, the majority (1,104) were rejected, while 34 were declared void and returned to the first-instance procedure, and one resulted in a changed decision.
Hungary revoked the status of 23 recognized refugees during 2001. During the year, 4,565 applications were discontinued, mainly because of the disappearance of the applicants, presumably to seek asylum farther west.
A new asylum law, adopted in May and scheduled to enter into force in January 2002, introduced amendments to Hungary's existing law, bringing the country's policies largely in line with European Union (EU) standards. Among the most important amendments were provisions that allow undocumented asylum seekers full access to the asylum system, establish procedural safeguards for the treatment of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers, and allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to monitor the appeals process by receiving notification of decisions made by the Budapest Municipal Court.
Additionally, in an effort to shorten the asylum procedure and improve safeguards against refoulement (forced refugee return), the Office for Immigration and Nationality (OIN) within the Interior Ministry will have the exclusive authority to issue an expulsion order at the end of the first-instance asylum procedure (suspended if an appeal is lodged), or to grant a humanitarian residence permit to individuals authorized to stay (see below).
A new Aliens Act, also adopted in May, placed a 30-day limit on the length of detention permissible for migrants apprehended while entering or staying illegally in the country prior to applying for asylum. Under "exceptional" circumstances, migrants can be detained up to 12 months (under the previous law, the limit was 18 months). The new act also includes provisions for improved rights and benefits for persons who are authorized to stay.
Hungary acceded to the 1954 UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1997 Council of Europe Convention on Nationality during 2001.
The OIN is responsible for processing asylum claims. It also assumes 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.
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. After interviewing the applicant, the OIN field office forwards the claim to the National Security Office (NSO), which offers an opinion on the case within 45 to 60 days (5 days in the accelerated procedure). The OIN field office must consider the NSO's opinion in issuing a first-instance decision on an asylum application, and the NSO may appeal an OIN decision in which its opinion has been ignored. The Hungarian authorities should issue an asylum decision within 90 days of receiving the application.
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. Permits last for one year, after which the OIN reviews the case for possible renewal.
The government is also authorized 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. Hungary did not grant any nationality temporary protection in 2001.
The denied applicant may appeal the decision to OIN's Budapest-based Appeal Unit. 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. Asylum seekers cannot be deported while awaiting an appeal decision.
During the procedure, asylum seekers reside either in open OIN-run reception centers or closed detention facilities run by the National Border Guards. Under "Anti-Mafia" legislation passed in September 1999 to combat illegal migration, the OIN must request permission from the aliens police to transfer an asylum seeker from a closed facility to an open reception center.
Following reports of poor conditions in refugee reception centers in Hungary during 2000, three reception centers began improvement projects during 2001. A new temporary reception center was opened in October, with a capacity of 500 persons. The government also renovated and improved conditions in the closed facilities during 2000 and 2001, bringing six of the eight centers up to standard. As a result of the detention policy outlined in the new Aliens Act, half of the closed centers are being converted into open, OIN-managed facilities.
Recognized refugees receive permanent identity cards and the same social benefits as Hungarian nationals, and are also eligible for additional integration assistance. In coordination with UNHCR, nongovernmental organizations 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, who are housed in reception centers and receive renewable travel documents.
Despite changes that have brought Hungary's asylum procedure more closely in line with EU standards, problems remain. According to UNHCR, Hungary's asylum legislation still outlines grounds for excluding persons from refugee status or rescinding refugee status that generally go beyond the scope of those in the UN Refugee Convention.
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, supplies a false document and insists it is genuine, has arrived from a "safe third country," or has belatedly filed an asylum application only to avoid deportation due to illegal entry into Hungary.
In the accelerated procedure, the OIN must examine and render a decision for a case within 15 days; denied asylum seekers have three days to file an appeal. During the year, 21 asylum seekers' claims were rejected in the accelerated procedure.
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 OIN officers judge when safe country principles should apply. Under the accelerated airport procedure, OIN makes a decision within eight days.
Hungarian border officials denied entry to 33,517 foreigners in 2001 who did not meet entry requirements, such as possession of a valid passport, visa, or adequate financial means.
The Hungarian government entered into readmission agreements with Croatia, Latvia, Macedonia, Romania, and Yugoslavia during 2001. Hungary returned 2,662 asylum seekers to other countries during the year, and readmitted 2,581 asylum seekers.
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Hungarian government announced a policy of moving all Afghan asylum seekers from reception centers around the country to a single, closed center in Debrecen. After 15 days, protests by UNHCR and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee against the Afghans' confinement led the government to rescind the policy.
The Hungarian government continued to implement a medium-term program to improve conditions for the Roma minority, and set up a nationwide legal counseling network to provide legal assistance to Roma in need in 2001. Despite these efforts, Roma continued to face discrimination in housing, employment, and education, and were also victims of violent attacks by other citizens and by police.
More than 4,000 Hungarians, believed to be overwhelmingly Roma, applied for asylum in Western Europe and Canada during 2001. In December, Canada imposed new visa requirements on Hungarians after some 3,800 Hungarians filed asylum applications during the year.
In a development that attracted media attention, a group of Hungarian Roma families were granted asylum in France between January and March after arguing that they had suffered persecution in the town of Zamoly, in western Hungary. The group had also lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg about the human rights abuses they had suffered, charging 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 court rejected the complaint in June on the grounds that the Roma had not sufficiently pursued available legal remedies in Hungary.
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