Monday

20th Aug 2018

Hungary wants stricter immigration rules amid hike in Kosovo migrants

  • Viktor Orban: "We have to protect ourselves" (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has upped his anti-immigration rhetoric amid a surge in Kosovars coming to Hungary, their first point of entry to the EU.

There has been a spike in the number of asylum seekers in Hungary over the last few months, rising from a few thousand in 2012 to 43,000 in 2014, according to official data.

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Last weekend more than 2,700 migrants were detained, according to Hungarian police.

Most of the new arrivals are not coming from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, but from Kosovo, the tiny, poor ex-Yugoslav republic that declared its independence in 2008.

"I would not call them economic migrants. Fleeing starvation it is not the same as looking for a better paying job in the West," Gabor Gyulai, refugee programme coordinator at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group, told this website.

Almost all the asylum-seekers cross into Hungary along the border with Serbia, south of Szeged city, putting pressure on some of the nearby villages.

The mayor of Asotthalom, associated with the far-right Jobbik party, has called for a fence to be built to keep the migrants out.

Locals say migrants, who are detained by police in Hungary, including families with small children, are often made to wait sitting on the ground in freezing winter weather. There are no facilities on site, neither tents, nor heaters. They are then taken to nearby Szeged to start the asylum process.

Top officials from the police forces of Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany agreed on Monday (February 9) on greater cooperation to prevent illegal migration, according to the Serbian press agency.

However, the vast majority of asylum seekers do not stay in Hungary, wanting instead to head further west. Eighty percent of them move on from Hungary in the first weeks of the asylum procedure.

"Hungary does little to make the asylum-seekers want to stay," Gyulai said.

Hungary puts many asylum seekers into detention facilities upon arrival, a practice that has been criticised by the United Nations.

Despite the increase in claims, Hungary, with a strict interpretation of refugee status, grants 400-500 asylum status a year.

‘Protecting Hungarians’

Prime Minister Orban has repeatedly lashed out at migrants over the past few weeks.

After the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris in January, Orban stated that "economic immigration is bad for Europe" and promised to "keep Hungary as Hungary".

Orban's ruling Fidesz party has been calling for tougher measures against economic migration at the European level, but said they will not wait for Brussels to act.

"Brussels will not protect Hungarians against this (growing migration), this will have to be sorted out by Hungarians, we have to protect ourselves. We have to fight to change the rules in Brussels and not let unworldly rules be forced upon us," the Hungarian leader told public radio in an interview in January.

Orban's party has indicated it is willing to go head to head with Brussels on the issue.

’Running contrary to Brussels’

"We are preparing a decision that is a very strict treatment of immigrants and in a way runs contrary to the practice adopted by Brussels," Antal Rogan, a senior Fidesz lawmaker, said in a radio interview on Tuesday (February 10).

Although the government has not spelled out the concrete measures yet, Rogan suggested it will include detention of asylum seekers.

The proposals, seen by the Helsinki committee, would also enable Hungary to deport asylum seekers before decisions can be subject to judicial review.

The planned measures could infringe Hungary's EU commitments.

"With no effective judicial review of administrative decisions, the asylum procedure will not be fair, so a situation could arise where it will not be possible to send asylum seekers back to Hungary, their point of entry into the EU, from other member states"," said Gyulai.

Some suggest the Hungarian prime minister put the migration issue on the agenda because of a recent sharp plunge in polls.

Orban's ruling Fidesz party has lost 12 percent of its base - about a million voters - over the last few months, according to pollsters.

"Fidesz is trying to exploit the deeply xenophobic attitudes in Hungary for political reasons," Andras Biro-Nagy, analyst and co-director of Policy Solutions Institute, told this website.

"The government tries to turn migration into an issue, but for the vast majority of Hungarians this has been a non-issue, even if they agree with the government's tough position. For ordinary Hungarians corruption and poverty are more urgent than fleeing Kosovars," he added.

According to official data, 140,000 foreigners live in Hungary, most of them economically active and belong to the middle class. They make up 1.4 percent of the population. The EU average is 4 percent.

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