The IDC joins its member organisation, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), in expressing deep concern regarding the Hungarian government’s plans to introduce legal amendments to systematically detain and immediately deport all irregular migrants, including asylum seekers.

In February 2015, the Prime Minister reportedly initiated a communication campaign against migrants and asylum-seekers on the pretext of the terrorist attacks in Paris in early January, which continued with a series of public statements, interviews and press conferences by senior government officials. Moreover a plenary debate in Parliament, titled “Hungary does not need 3 livelihood immigrants” was held on 20 February and a “national consultation” on the issue is to be held later in 2015.

A number of amendments are planned to the national asylum and immigration laws. These plans include enacting legislation that would enable state authorities to:

  1. immediately detain all irregular migrants, including asylum-seekers;
  2. immediately deport irregular migrants, including asylum-seekers considered as “livelihood immigrants”;
  3. accelerate asylum procedures so that a final decision could be taken within a few days;
  4. oblige irregular migrants and asylum-seekers to work while in Hungary in order to “earn their keep”.

“These plans would not only violate EU law and other international obligations, but following on a series of attacks on the rule of law since 2010, they would further undermine the country’s commitment to European democratic values,” stated the HHC in an information note published on 4 March 2015.

Hungary has experienced a sharp increase in asylum seekers over the past few years (twenty-fold between 2012 and 2014) and according to FRONTEX, the Serbian-Hungarian border section was the third main entry point to the EU for irregular migration. However, the proportion of foreign nationals living in Hungary remains comparatively low (1.4% of the population) and migrants are on average better educated and more active on the labour market (making greater contributions to social security and the health  system) than Hungarian nationals. Despite this positive picture, in polls Hungary usually figures among the most xenophobic societies in the EU (see here for example).

Until the end of 2012, many asylum-seekers were held in immigration detention (idegenrendészeti ôrizet) in Hungary. The HHC, the UNHCR, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission strongly criticised this practice, questioning the legal ground of holding even first-time asylum-seekers in pre-deportation detention while the asylum proceedings were ongoing (see HHC information note). In response, Hungary introduced ‘asylum detention’ based on the Recast EU Reception Conditions Directive. In 2014, 4 829 asylum-seekers were held in asylum detention, often for several months.

But under international and EU law, detention of refugees, asylum seekers and irregular migrants should only be used exceptionally and as a measure of last resort, after alternatives to detention have first been pursued.  Furthermore, there is strong evidence that immigration detention is not an effective deterrent of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in either destination or transit contexts. International research has shown that detention is not only expensive and harmful, it also fails to impact on the choice of destination country and does not reduce numbers of irregular arrivals.

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