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25th Aug 2019

EU targets Hungary for denying food to migrants

  • Hungary has erected fences along its border with Serbia (Photo: Freedom House)

Hungary has a month to respond to European Commission questions over denying asylum-seekers food, or face possible sanctions.

"Given the urgency of the situation, the deadline for Hungary to respond to the Commission's concerns is set for one month instead of the usual two," a European Commission spokeswoman told reporters in Brussels on Thursday (25 July).

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The announcement follows reports of Hungary denying food to people stuck in its transit zone along the border with Serbia.

Should the Hungarians fail to convince, then the commission will move onto its second step, a so-called 'reasoned opinion', before taking the country to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The Brussels-executive said forcing people to remain in Hungarian transit zones qualifies as detention under an EU law known as the return directive.

"The withholding of food does not respect the material conditions set out in the return directive or in the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union," said the spokeswoman.

The Budapest-based Hungarian Helsinki Committee has long sounded the alarm on the practice, and documented cases where over two dozen people have had to go without food.

On Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ordered Hungary to start feeding a young Ghanaian man deprived of food for two days.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee says the Budapest government had denied another individual food for eight days - the longest period of all the cases documented since it started keeping records last summer.

Hungary's chief government spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs, has previously denied the reports, saying the state is only required to provide shelter and food for those who submit their request for asylum, or some kind of legal protection, for the duration of the procedure.

"Before that, beyond that, the case is closed, there is no such obligation and indeed we are not providing a free meal, free food for any illegal migrants," he had said.

People applying for asylum in Hungary are required, since early 2017, to file the application from the transit zone.

Hungary then later introduced a new measure, allowing authorities to deny asylum to people on the basis that Serbia, where they entered from, is considered safe.

The vast majority of people caught up in the legal limbo are families from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

Hungary maintains there is no detention because people in the transit zones can walk back to Serbia whenever they want, facing possible criminal proceedings in Serbia for unlawful border crossings.

Stop Soros

This treatment is part of a wider campaign led by Hungary's right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban to demonise migrants and criminalise those who help them.

The commission on Thursday had also announced it was taking Hungary to the Luxembourg-based court, given its legislation that makes it a criminal offence to support asylum seekers and asylum applications.

Kovacs, in a defiant tweet, said Hungary is prepared to defend its 'Stop Soros' package of laws.

He said the laws forbid the mass settlement of immigrants in Hungary and comply with the Geneva convention and other EU rules like the Dublin Regulation, which determines who is responsible for handling asylum applications.

"We're not surprised that the pro-immigration parties attack them," he said.

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