The Hungarian parliament has approved a law that allows all asylum seekers to be detained, including children between the ages of 14 – 18 years.

Asylum seekers will now be detained in shipping container camps for the duration of their asylum applications which can take months to process.

The latest developments in Hungary appear to contravene EU guidelines forbidding the detention of asylum seekers. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees indicating that these laws could violate Hungary’s legal obligations.

Any detention that it is based upon principles of mandatory application or broad categories is, by definition, not individualized and will therefore be a form of arbitrary detention. Furthermore, the failure to include an analysis and opportunities for alternatives to detention will also fail the prohibition on arbitrary detention and violate international law.

These announcements in Hungary follow the introduction of tougher criminal sanctions and new security measures along the southern border.


In a briefing paper on the proposals, IDC member the Hungarian Helsinki Committee stated: “These proposed legal changes, which are extreme and flagrant violations of European Union asylum law and European and international human rights standards and European values, warrant an immediate and definite response by the European Commission and other EU institutions”.


UNHCR has expressed deep concern at the new law which foresees the mandatory detention of all asylum seekers, including many children, for the entire length of the asylum procedure. They stated, «this new law violates Hungary’s obligations under international and EU laws, and will have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered…Alternatives to detention should always to be considered first. Failure to do so could render detention arbitrary.»

The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, Mr. Nils Muižnieks,  also expressed deep concern stating, «automatically depriving all asylum seekers of their liberty would be in clear violation of Hungary’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. As I have recently emphasized, rather than resorting to detention, Hungary should invest in effective, accessible alternatives to detention. In particular, Hungary should refrain from the detention of children, as this is never in their best interests, as found by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child…»



Children, first and foremost

The IDC is particularly concerned that children will be among the vulnerable populations being placed in detention, in contravention of their rights. Even short periods of detention have been shown to have negative long term impacts on child health and well-being. The CRC has been very clear on this issue: children should not be detained on the basis of their, or their families migration status. Their rights as children to family life supersede the States’ prerogative to use immigration detention.

The IDC supports the Global Campaign to End Immigration Detention of Children has a petition which we urge you to sign now. The campaign calls for national adoption of the UN convention on the rights of the child, which states that detaining children  on the basis of their or their parent’s migration status always a child rights violation.


Detention does not deter migration

This latest development is an extension of an existing policy of deterrence in Hungary, with previously built razor-wire fences to keep refugees out.

The Hungarian government chief spokesman, Zoltán Kovács said at a briefing in London that “No migrants – not even those who have already issued their request for asylum – will be able move freely until there is a primary legal decision whether they are entitled for political asylum, refugee status or anything else, so they are not entitled to move freely in the country.”

A briefing paper authored by the IDC reviews the international research literature on the effectiveness of border control policies – particularly immigration detention – in reducing irregular migration, finding that immigratin detention does not deter migration. The brief concludes by drawing together insights from the research literature to elaborate on policy interventions that are both effective and that respect human rights. It suggests a way forward through multi-layered regional cooperation that focuses on increasing the stability and future prospects of people on the move. Read the brief here.