IWB for Refugees: Hungary

Summary of the national legislation on refugees

The Fundamental Law of Hungary of states that:

“Hungary shall, upon request, grant asylum to non-Hungarian nationals who are persecuted in their country or in the country of their habitual residence for reasons of race, nationality, the membership of a particular social group, religious or political beliefs, or have a well-founded reason to fear direct persecution if they do not receive protection from their country of origin, nor from any other country. A non-Hungarian national shall not be entitled to asylum if he or she arrived in the territory of Hungary through any country where he or she was not persecuted or directly threatened with persecution.”[i]

Details of asylum in Hungary are set out in the Act LXXX of 2007 on Asylum, including four amendments introduced in 2017-2019, and the Government Decree no. 301/2007 (XI. 9.) on the implementation of Act LXXX of 2007 on asylum, with no less than six amendments from 2017-2018. The Asylum Act specifies three different types of international protection:

  • Asylum
  • Subsidiary protection
  • Temporary protection[ii]

As the sudden introduction of numerous amendments indicate, asylum in Hungary became subject to change and tightening of rules around a similar time as in many other EU countries, and, crucially, in the period around the 2018 Hungarian parliamentary elections where Victor Orban was reelected in what has been seen as a sweeping victory for right-wing populism in Europe.[iii] An important change came with the July 2018 amendments, introducing new inadmissibility ground, essentially rejecting all asylum seekers believed to have had the chance to seek protection elsewhere before arriving in Hungary. In the latter part of 2018, all but one asylum seekers were rejected on this basis.[iv] In 2018 there were no returns to Hungary under the Dublin Regulation as many national courts have ruled such returns unlawful since Hungary is not considered to respect the principle of non-refoulement.[v]

Today, Hungary’s asylum system is one of the most controversial in the EU. Notably, individuals entering Hungary with the aim of claiming asylum are obliged to stay in the so-called transit zones at the border, until the case has been handled. This practice has been likened to detention, and critics have questioned whether it is a violation of international law.[vi] In addition, reports suggest that Hungary has limited the number of individuals who get access to its territory to as little as 1-2 asylum seekers per day, something which authorities deny, saying they cannot help if only a few seek to enter the country.[vii] However, it is widely accepted that Hungary implements ‘push backs’ of asylum seekers, although this is not a practice established in law and not admitted to by authorities.[viii] For those who do make it in and who manage to get refugee status, there is no legally secured state support after this, meaning that refugees are typically faced with the choice between homelessness in Hungary or continuing their journey to get to Germany or other destinations in Western European.[ix]

Furthermore, there have been several concerns about the crackdown on civil society groups supporting asylum seekers entering Hungary, making it a crime to ‘facilitate illegal immigration’.[x] But the so-called ‘Stop Soros Law’ stretches much further than that and exists to complicate the work of NGOs in receipt of foreign funding and requires them to get special permits from the authorities before being able to legally carry out certain activities.[xi] In January 2019, the European Commission decided to follow the second step in an infringement procedure against Hungary by issuing a reasoned opinion to the government.[xii]

[i] https://www.kormany.hu/download/f/3e/61000/TheFundamentalLawofHungary_20180629_FIN.pdf

[ii] http://njt.hu/cgi_bin/njt_doc.cgi?docid=110729.362966

[iii] https://euobserver.com/political/141539

[iv] https://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/hungary/overview-main-changes-previous-report-update

[v] Ibid.

[vi] https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/02/03/582800740/hungary-reduces-number-of-asylum-seekers-it-will-admit-to-2-per-day?t=1556888484952

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] https://www.devex.com/news/q-a-how-hungary-dismantled-its-refugee-asylum-system-92617

[ix] Ibid.

[x] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44546030

[xi] https://www.devex.com/news/q-a-how-hungary-dismantled-its-refugee-asylum-system-92617

[xii] https://www.efc.be/news/european-commission-steps-up-infringement-procedure-against-hungary-on-ngo-law/

Refugee life in Hungary

Number of people with a refugee status (give or take) There was a total of 175,960 applications for asylum in Hungary in 2015 (January – September). [1]
Out of this total, 105 were granted refugee status, 235 received subsidiary protection and 5 people were granted humanitarian protection. The refugee acceptance rate was 5.1%. The rejection rate was 83.3%.[2] It is equally important to mention that the Hungarian Helsinki Committee estimates that at least 80 % of asylum seekers who arrive in Hungary leave the country within one to 10 days of arrival. One year earlier, in 2014 Hungary granted full refugee rights to approximately 500 people out of 42.000 applications, rejecting 90 % of them, the highest rejection rate in the EU. In 2015 the Hungarian Helsinki Committee warned that the Hungarian asylum system could collapse immediately if the asylum seekers decided to stay here rather than going towards Western Europe within a few days.[3] Top 5 countries they are coming from The breakdown by countries of origin of the total numbers is the following: Syria – 64,415 applications. Refugee status: 10 people, subsidiary protection: 85. Afghanistan – 45,870 applications. Refugee status: 20 people, subsidiary protection 45. Kosovo: 24,370 applications. Refugee status: 0. Pakistan: 15,055 applications. Refugee status: 5 people. Iraq: 9,110. Refugee status: 5 people, subsidiary protection: 25. [4] Top 3 reasons for which they left their country of origin The asylum seekers from the top countries of origin mentioned above left for reasons of war, persecution /threats to their life and instability. These reasons are valid in particular for those coming from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.[5] Life as a refugee How much state allowance does a refugee receive a month? According to latest reports, asylum seekers residing in reception centres receive: accommodation; 3 meals per day, although in some reception centres they can receive the food allowance, instead, if they wish to cook for themselves; a monthly allowance for purchasing hygienic items; and pocket money. The hygienic allowance is distributed on a monthly basis together with the pocket money and covers HUF 1,550 / €5 for men and HUF 1,880 / €5.70 for women. The amount of pocket money is set in law and it is tied to the sum of the minimum amount of monthly old-age pension. In the case of children, single parents or persons above 60, it is 25% of the lowest monthly pension (HUF 28 500 / €95) i.e. HUF 7,125 / €24, while in the case of other adults it is 10% of this amount i.e. HUF 2,850 / €9.50. This amount is extremely low, taking into account Hungarian living standards.[6] What are the living conditions of refugees (for example housing)? Asylum-seekers in Hungary are accommodated in one of the four permanent administrative detention facilities run by the police in Budapest, Győr, Kiskunhalas, and Nyirbátor. Unaccompanied children seeking asylum in Hungary are hosted in the Home for Separated Children run by the Ministry of National Resources in Fót. Recognized refugees and beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are accommodated in the open integration facility in Bicske.[7] Until January 2014, the refugees who were housed in the Pre-Integration camp in Bicske had to move into private accommodation within 1 year of being granted protection status and received a financial support of maximum 28.500 HUF/month (approx. 80 EUR) from the Government for this purpose. This amount could have been granted for a period of up to two years if the applicant could guarantee attendance of at least 70% at language courses.[8] However, in practice many refugees had insufficient financial means and / or a paid job to move into private accommodation before their designated period of time in Bicske expired. Thus, they were threatened with homelessness or, after series of protests, they were given the option to move into homeless shelters. More than 100 refugees refused this option and instead walked to Germany in March 2013.[9] Several other reports pointed out to the severe issues of homelessness faced by refugees in Hungary. Based upon research findings by UNHCR in 2009 and 2010, refugees at greatest risk of becoming homeless in Hungary were in particular Somali who had engaged in onward movements to other EU Member States following status recognition or after a brief stay at the Bicske Pre-Integration Centre and were subsequently returned to Hungary.[10] The Somali refugees chose to return to their country of origin, despite the risk of persecution, torture and other forms of serious human rights violations upon return, stating that their living conditions were deficient and their life and dignity at immediate risk in Hungary.[11] The Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights found in an inquiry conducted on refugee homelessness that refugees often face obstacles accessing and exercising their rights as enshrined in Hungarian law: their exclusion from the support system upon return to Hungary was found against the law; the denial of their access to homeless services is contrary to the rights to life and dignity; and by being excluded from the social support system and not having a legal address/residence, they have no access to citizenship. Moreover, in 2011 the Municipality of Budapest passed legislation imposing fines on homeless people for “living rough”. The UN Special Rapporteurs on Extreme Poverty and on Adequate Housing called on Hungary to reconsider this legislation criminalizing homelessness.[12] Starting with January 2014 there have been some changes regarding housing and accommodation for refugees. After being granted refugee or other protection status, refugees are allowed to stay in the camps only for two months. During these two months, they are supposed to sign an “integration contract” with the Office for Immigration and Nationality according to which they oblige themselves to stay in Hungary and they receive 90.000 HUF/person for 6 months, and then 22.500 less every next 6 months for a total of 2 years. Some refugees will be provided with accommodation after the two months in the camps, organized by the Reformed Church and the Baptist Church, but the majority of the refugees will have to find their own accommodation.[13] Are refugees offered language lessons? Yes. Language training is offered only after people have been granted international protection. However, for those persons, the lengthy process of learning the Hungarian language competes with efforts needed to find a job or receive training. An inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner found that no study has examined the effectiveness of state-funded language training over the past few years, and no measures were taken to improve its effectiveness.[14] Are people with an official refugee status allowed to work? If yes, is there assistance for finding employment? After living in the Pre-Integration camp in Bicske for six months (and since 2014 for two months), most refugees do not manage to find employment, lacking any detailed knowledge of employment conditions. Many lack the ability to speak or communicate effectively in Hungarian. There is little support to further develop skills refugees already possess and to help them find their way into the job market.[15] In practice they face a variety of difficulties in finding employment due to the high unemployment rate in Hungary, their lack of knowledge of the Hungarian language and the non-recognition of foreign certificates, diplomas or degrees by the Hungarian authorities. Asylum seekers are only rarely given access to vocational training schemes.[16] According to UNHCR only a few dozen refugees manage to find legal employment in Hungary each year. Many of the permanently unemployed refugees migrate further to Western Europe in the hope of a better living, while others add to the number of homeless in the country. As an example of good practice, a training programme in Budapest set up by UNHCR and one of the leading NGOs for migrants in Hungary – Menedek – helped twenty refugees learn Hungarian and get vocational training in order to find jobs. Nine refugee men living in Hungary finished an intensive, fifteen-month training course in vocational skills and Hungarian language. In another, similar course, eleven refugees, including nine women, obtained certificates in computer skills and social work.[17] Do legal refugees have the right to work immediately or only after a certain period of time? Asylum seekers have restricted access to the labour market. Only after 9 months from the date of applying for asylum, they can work outside the centres, in accordance with the general rules applicable to foreigners. The employer has to request a working permit – valid for 1 year, renewable – from the local employment office. Asylum seekers can only apply for jobs which are not available for Hungarians or nationals of the European Economic Area, therefore subject to a labour market test.[18] According to András Kováts, Director of Menedék – Hungarian Association for Migrants – only 30% of all refugees manage to find durable and legal employment in Hungary. Many of them live under the breadline, work illegally, or increase the number of homeless people in Hungary due to being permanently unemployed. Kováts believes it is a great loss to Hungary if refugees migrate to Western Europe in the hope of a decent living.[19] Is there a maximum amount of time that a refugee can stay in the country in which they seek asylum? Also receiving a legal refugee status? Please see the response in the part called The Legal Process. Do refugees or their children have the right to attend schools and universities? Yes, the Hungarian law provides for access to education for asylum-seeking children. The Public Education Act provides for compulsory education (kindergarten or school) to asylum seekers and refugee children under the age of 16 staying or residing in Hungary. Children have access to kindergarten and school education under the same conditions as Hungarian children. Schooling is only compulsory until the age of 16. As a consequence, asylum seeking children above the age of 16 are not offered the possibility to attend school, until they receive a protection status. They have to stay in the reception centre during the entire day without any education related opportunities. However, refugee children are often not enrolled in the normal classes with Hungarian pupils but placed in special preparatory classes. Integration with the Hungarian children remains thus limited. They can move from these special classes once their level of Hungarian is sufficient. Nevertheless, there are only a few institutions which accept such children and are able to provide appropriate programmes according to their specific needs, education level and language knowledge. According to the experience of the Menedék Association for Migrants, many local schools are reluctant to receive foreign children because: (a) they lack the necessary capacity and expertise to provide additional tutoring to asylum-seeking children; and
(b) Hungarian families would voice their adversarial feelings towards the reception of asylum seeking children.
This is a clear sign of intolerance of the Hungarian society in general. Education opportunities and vocational training for adults is only offered once they have a protection status. [20] In its Report about Hungary as a Country of Asylum, UNHCR concludes that Hungary falls short of assuring the full and effective participation of foreign children, including asylum-seeking children and beneficiaries of international protection, in mainstream education. And Intercultural education in Hungary scores as “unfavourable zero,” according to the Migrant Integration Policy Index III.[21] Is the state obliged to provide asylum seekers with healthcare?
Yes. Access to health care is provided for asylum seekers as part of material reception conditions. It covers essential medical services and corresponds to free medical services provided to legally residing third-country nationals. Asylum seekers have a right to examinations and treatment by general practitioners, but all specialised treatment conducted in policlinics and hospitals is free only in case of emergency and upon referral by a general practitioner. Asylum seekers have access to a general physician within all reception centres several times per week and to nurses on a daily basis. However, their access to effective medical assistance is hindered by language problems because translators are not always available or provided by the Office for Immigration and Nationality, as well as due to capacity problems. Specialised health care is provided in nearby hospitals in all major towns where, however, similar language problems occur in case of the unavailability of social worker to accompany asylum seekers to the hospital to assist in the communication with doctors.[22] In a Report by the Human Rights Watch regarding access to psychological and psychiatric care for people or groups with special needs, the Office of Immigration and Nationality stated that measures are in place to address the needs of people with psychosocial and physical disabilities, including access to psychiatric care both inside and outside the facilities. However, directors at the two asylum detention centers visited said that the in-house psychiatric care offered by the non-governmental Cordelia Association was suspended in July 2015 and is not expected to be operational again before January 2016. For an asylum seeker to be referred for outside care and alternate accommodation in open reception facilities, the person must be referred by a general practitioner to a specialist – a process that can take months. Human Rights Watch found five cases in both immigration and asylum detention where people with psychosocial or physical disabilities and a pregnant woman had been detained. There had not been adequate efforts to move them to a facility suitable to address their special needs. Directors of immigration and asylum detention centers told Human Rights Watch that no psychological counselling was available.[23] Do refugees experience obstacles with regard to issues like social life, personal wellbeing and freedom? Please illustrate briefly. According to UNHCR findings, asylum-seekers and refugees report encountering xenophobia, racism and intolerance on a daily basis in Hungary.[24] Apart from the issues of homelessness and lack of employment opportunities mentioned in the sections above, overall, there is a lack of a governmental integration strategy that could enhance the possibilities for refugees to develop a social life and personal wellbeing while living in Hungary. Over several years, UNHCR has found that the local hospital is often not willing to send an ambulance for patients in the reception centre, forcing management to provide transportation for the patient with its own vehicles. In one of the localities hosting refugees, the local dentist is not willing to treat refugees, forcing them to travel approximately 100 km to see a dentist in another town (Székesfehérvár). The Menedék Association, a local NGO providing social and integration assistance to refugees, reports that it regularly encounters racist attitudes when seeking employment and accommodation for refugees.[25] In the absence of a governmental agency with specific responsibility for promoting refugee integration at community level, many refugees have no effective opportunity to exercise their rights as provided for under the 1951 Convention. They rely mostly on fragmented, under-funded and project-based refugee support services in Budapest, which cannot provide solutions to what constitutes a structural problem, requiring a strategic and cross-departmental response. Whether sleeping rough or having found accommodation, refugees have reported suffering discrimination and physical and verbal harassment in all areas of their lives. Refugees who are visibly different (as well as Roma and LBGTI people) often face various manifestations of xenophobia and discrimination.[26] [1] European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Asylum Information Database, National Country Report : Hungary, December 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/56652db64.html, accessed 17 January 2016 [2] European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Asylum Information Database, National Country Report : Hungary, December 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/56652db64.html, accessed 17 January 2016 [3] Gyulai, Gabor: Unprepared Hungarian Government Facing a Refugee Crisis, June 28, 2015. Available at http://hungarianspectrum.org/tag/refugee-camps/, accessed July 1, 2015 [4] European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Asylum Information Database, National Country Report : Hungary, December 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/56652db64.html, accessed 17 January 2016 [5] UNHCR calls on Hungary to protect, not persecute, refugees. Press Releases, 8 May 2015. Available at http://www.unhcr.org/554cc16e9.html, accessed January 17, 2016 [6] European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Asylum Information Database, National Country Report : Hungary, December 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/56652db64.html, accessed 17 January 2016, [7] Hungary as a country of Asylum, UNHCR Report, April 2012, available at http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4f9167db2.pdf, accessed January 16, 2016 [8] Bordermonitoring.eu Report. Hungary: Refugees between Detention and Homelessness 2013. Retrieved from http://bordermonitoring.eu/wp-content/uploads/reports/bm.eu-2013-hungary.en.pdf, March 14, 2015 [9] Ibid. [10] Hungary as a country of Asylum, UNHCR Report, April 2012, available at http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4f9167db2.pdf, accessed January 16, 2016 [11] http://www.unhcr-centraleurope.org/pdf/resources/legal-documents/unhcr-handbooks-recommendations-and-guidelines/hungary-as-a-country-of-asylum-2012.html [12] http://www.unhcr-centraleurope.org/pdf/resources/legal-documents/unhcr-handbooks-recommendations-and-guidelines/hungary-as-a-country-of-asylum-2012.html [13] https://www.migszol.com/hungarian-asylum-policy.html [14] Hungary as a country of Asylum, UNHCR Report, April 2012, available at http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/4f9167db2.pdf, accessed January 16, 2016 [15] http://www.unhcr-centraleurope.org/pdf/resources/legal-documents/unhcr-handbooks-recommendations-and-guidelines/hungary-as-a-country-of-asylum-2012.html [16] http://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/hungary/reception-conditions/employment-education/access-labour-market [17] http://www.unhcr-centraleurope.org/en/news/2007/training-refugees-for-the-hungarian-labour-market.html [18] Ibid. [19] http://www.unhcr-centraleurope.org/en/news/2007/training-refugees-for-the-hungarian-labour-market.html [20] European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Asylum Information Database, National Country Report: Hungary, December 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/56652db64.html, accessed 17 January 2016 [21] http://www.unhcr-centraleurope.org/pdf/resources/legal-documents/unhcr-handbooks-recommendations-and-guidelines/hungary-as-a-country-of-asylum-2012.html [22] European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Asylum Information Database, National Country Report: Hungary, December 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/56652db64.html, accessed 17 January 2016 [23] Human Rights Watch, Hungary: Locked Up for Seeking Asylum, 1 December 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/566a8a684.html, accessed 17 January 2016 [24] http://www.unhcr-centraleurope.org/pdf/resources/legal-documents/unhcr-handbooks-recommendations-and-guidelines/hungary-as-a-country-of-asylum-2012.html [25] Ibid. [26] Ibid.

The legal process

As already discussed, asylum seekers in Hungary must stay in enclosed transit zones for the duration of the asylum process. Immediately after handing the application there will be a Dublin procedure and then one or more substantive interviews to assess the claimant’s case for protection. Asylum seekers have complained that there are armed security guards present in the interview room which has made them feel very uncomfortable opening up to the interviewing officer.[i]

The procedural deadline for the authorities to give a decision is set to 60 days, however people typically wait 3-6 months for an answer.[ii] While this is still below many other European countries, it can also be seen as an indication of the quality of the procedures. Interviewing officers have said to be very different in their approach to the cases, and they do not have any guidelines on things like gender sensitivity.[iii] Likewise, because of the hasty appointments there is not always time enough to get in a suitable interpreter, especially if the applicant speaks a less common language. Whether there is time for the applicant to receive legal aid depends on someone being available in the transit zone at the time and is not always guaranteed. [iv]

If there is reason for detaining an applicant, this can be done for up to 72 hours in the first instance and, following a court ruling, be extended 60 days with a maximum total duration of six months.[v]

If the decision is negative in the first instance, the applicant has a mere eight days to apply for a judicial review (there is no actual appeal available) which is carried out by a judge with no asylum specialisation under the Public Administrative and Labour Law Courts, something which has been strongly criticised by UNHCR among others.[vi] In principle, both the interview transcript (there is no recording) and the decision (in case this is negative) are supposed to be read back to the applicant by an interpreter, but this is often not the case.[vii] The Hungarian Helsinki Committee provides legal aid to rejected asylum seekers and have explained that they typically win over 75% of cases, proving how flawed the system is.[viii]

For those who do receive a status, this is reviewed every three years (for refugee and subsidiary protection), and after an individually set time in the case of temporary protection, typically around one year.[ix]

[i] https://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/hungary/asylum-procedure/procedures/regular-procedure

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] http://www.bmbah.hu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=521&Itemid=728&lang=en#asylum_procedure

[vi] https://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/hungary/asylum-procedure/procedures/regular-procedure

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] https://www.devex.com/news/q-a-how-hungary-dismantled-its-refugee-asylum-system-92617

[ix] http://www.bmbah.hu/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=521&Itemid=728&lang=en#asylum_procedure


Name and country of origin M. Ghul Raheem, Afghanistan Year when you came to Hungary? 2015 Which other countries have you passed through? Iran, Turkey, Greece ,Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary What is the situation in your country? War and Taliban Are you still in contact with your family? Do you have family members living here / other EU country? No. How much time did it take for you to become a recognized refugee? I am still waiting for the decision. Did you receive any support from the HU Gov / HU lessons / help in finding a job? No. Name and country of origin K. Muzgham, Afghanistan Year when you came to Hungary? 2015 Which other countries have you passed through? Iran, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia What is the situation in your country? War and terrorism Are you still in contact with your family? Do you have family members living here / other EU country? On phone I’m still contact with my wife and mother, no family member in other EU country How much time did it take for you to become a recognized refugee? Ap. 1 year Did you receive any support from the HU Gov / HU lessons / help in finding a job? No. Name and country of origin Afghanistan Year when you came to Hungary? 2014 Which other countries have you passed through? Iran, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary What is the situation in your country? War, Taliban, political problems and low standard of living. Are you still in contact with your family? Do you have family members living here / other EU country? Yes, I left my wife in Turkey, my parents in Afghanistan, I want to bring them here. How much time did it take for you to become a recognized refugee? 2 years, I had a trial because the immigration office initially refused my application. Did you receive any support from the HU Gov / HU lessons / help in finding a job? No. Name and country of origin Pakistan Year when you came to Hungary? 2014 Which other countries have you passed through? Iran, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary What is the situation in your country? Terrorism, low standard of living and personally I have political problems with the current government. Are you still in contact with your family? Do you have family members living here / other EU country? Only with my mother; I am wifeless and childless. Don’t have family members in Europe. How much time did it take for you to become a recognized refugee? 8 months Did you receive any support from the HU Gov / HU lessons / help in finding a job? No. Name and country of origin Mirza, Syria Year when you came to Hungary? 2015 Which other countries have you passed through? Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary What is the situation in your country? Civil war, famine Are you still in contact with your family? Do you have family members living here / other EU country? No. How much time did it take for you to become a recognized refugee? 6 months Did you receive any support from the HU Gov / HU lessons / help in finding a job? No.

Description of what happens if they do not receive the refugee status

In case the asylum application is rejected, the asylum seeker may resubmit the appeal to the Immigration Office within 15 days after receiving the decision. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee may offer help with the appeal through a lawyer. The deadline for the court to decide is 45 working days, but in practice the procedure can take several months. Can they return to their country? Once the asylum seeker receives a final negative decision, another interview will be scheduled, this time with the Alien police, in order to issue an expulsion order. During this interview the asylum seekers may mention any personal circumstances which might prevent the authorities from issuing an expulsion order. If the expulsion order is nevertheless issued, the asylum seeker will have maximum 30 days to leave the country.[1] Can they go to a different EU country? No, with the expulsion order the court will also issue a ban of entry to the Schengen area. Entry bans may be ordered for a maximum duration of 3 years, and may be extended by maximum 3 additional years at a time. The expulsion order can be suspended; if more time is needed for preparation of the expulsion, however, the maximum time of detention is 12 months.[2] Will they be deported? In case, for objective reasons, the return is impossible, the asylum seekers will be given a certificate of temporary residence (ideiglenes tartózkodásra jogosító igazolás), which is valid for up to 3 months. The certificate of temporary residence protects them from arrests and detention if they are stopped by the Police and they did not commit any offence or crime. With this temporary residence the asylum seeker is entitled to emergency health care. Nevertheless, this status does not grant them the right to work, to participate in public education or to receive financial aid. [1] Regulation and Asylum in Hungary, Dublin II regulation – European Union, available on http://www.w2eu.info/dublin2.en.html, accessed November 21, 2015 [2] Ibid.

Analysis of how the media depicts the refugees in Hungary

Prior to 2015, Hungarian media did not have a great deal of experience covering the topic of migration and, according to statistics, only 3% of the population considered immigration an important issue. However, over the course of just one year, that changed to 76% who not only thought immigration was important, but that it constituted a “serious threat” to the country.[i] So, what happened?

In large parts, the answer is to be found in the media’s handling of the 2015/2016 migrant influx, and the Victor Orban government’s role in controlling this. In the months leading up to the first arrivals in 2015, state media built up an “apocalyptic atmosphere”, tipping over into “breaking news hysteria” when the first groups of migrants started to show up at the border.[ii]

When looking at the case of Hungary, it is important to keep in mind that public media is notoriously weak compared to other countries; journalists’ associations and unions are often small and lacking in resources, and there is no longstanding tradition of an independent and powerful press.[iii] This makes most news channels particularly susceptible to influence from state propaganda, and journalism tends to be loyal to the government in what has been referred to as a “patron and client” model.[iv]

As the terms for “refugee” and “asylum seeker” bore empathetic connotations from past conflicts, and the Hungarian word for immigrant, which can best be translated as “newcomer”, supposedly appeared to be too neutral, a brand new word, “migráns”, inspired by latin but never used before in Hungarian language, was introduced as a negative tag for those who came to seek entry into Europe through the Hungarian border.[v] As part of an orchestrated government campaign, state media were instructed to use this new term (making unbiased reporting impossible in general, as anyone’s decision to avoid the word became a political act in itself), just as journalists were instructed not to use pictures of women and children that might evoke sympathy in people.[vi] In addition, in comparison with other EU member states, Hungary is one of the countries which has emphasised the most on migrants’ economic (rather than humanitarian) reasons for coming to Europe, and is overall more inward-looking (rather than European) in its focus when describing affairs.[vii]

In the first images of migrants entering Hungary, there was no government or police spokesperson present to make it seem like the situation was under control; on the contrary, TV showed scenes of chaos with groups of undocumented foreigners and no national authority.[viii] In contract, in the time since, most reporting has been on government policies rather than actual migration, with twice as many pictures of Hungarian authorities as of migrants, and over 50% of quotes coming from the government; the proportion of which for NGOs being less than 10%.[ix]

[i] https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/resources/publications/media-mediterranean-migration/hungary

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] https://rm.coe.int/1680706b00

[iv] https://www.reminder-project.eu/blog/patrons-and-clients-the-media-systems-of-hungary-and-poland/

[v] http://www.media4change.co/news/as-europe-tightens-its-borders-medias-role-on-migration-coverage-becomes-crucial/

[vi] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/01/hungarian-media-told-not-to-broadcast-images-refugee-children-memo

[vii] https://openmediahub.com/2017/06/19/migration-coverage-eu-mixed-practices-challenge-professional-standards/

[viii] https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/resources/publications/media-mediterranean-migration/hungary

[ix] Ibid.

Follow-up on the refugee crisis

Political approach A small Central-European country with an isolated language and less than 10 million people, Hungary has become a territory of contested narratives of nation and migration.[1] Since 1990, Hungary was primarily a transit country for asylum seekers.[2] For the past three years there has been an increase in the number of asylum seekers in Hungary, rising from 2155 applications for asylum in 2012 to 42,775 in 2014.[3] 2015 was arguably the most challenging year post 2nd World War for Europe – and Hungary – in terms of managing what was defined a migration crisis, with over one million asylum seekers and migrants entering Europe by sea or land. In the first 6 months of 2015 there were 81.000 asylum applications in Hungary and the numbers were increasing. As a response to this situation and in an effort to curb the arrival of asylum seekers to Hungary, the Government commenced a series of anti-immigration measures. The first major step was to design a survey, entitled Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism, comprising 12 questions and an introduction letter, signed by the Prime Minister. On April 24, 2015, the survey was sent by post to 4 million households, approximately 8 million Hungarian citizens who have the right to vote, aiming to gather their support for tightening the migration policy and further deporting all irregular migrants. In a letter accompanying the questionnaire, the Prime Minister describes immigration as a threat that needs to be stopped and dismisses asylum seekers as economic migrants in disguise who come to abuse the welfare system. Furthermore, he claims that after the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this year, it’s a clear fact that EU can’t handle migration properly; therefore, Hungary has to deal with it in its own way. The questions are designed in a way that links migration directly with terrorism and all migrants are labelled “economic migrants” who endanger the jobs and livelihoods of Hungarians, but there is no mention of the asylum applicants and refugees. There are three possible answers that one can choose: I fully agree, I rather agree, I don’t agree. The deadline for filling in the questionnaire and sending it back by post was June 1, 2015.[4] The preliminary results of the National Survey were published on June 8, 2015. 400.000 questionnaires were filled out and returned, which equals to 5% of the number of eligible voters. 90% of respondents agreed that stricter rules should apply to illegal entrants concerning their detention and deportation while more than 90% of the respondents supported central family support schemes instead of accepting immigrants[5]. The next anti-immigration campaign led by the Hungarian Government, starting with May 2015, was to post large boards and banners, written in Hungarian only, throughout the capital, with messages that read:
If you come to Hungary, you have to respect our laws and our culture and
If you come to Hungary, you cannot take jobs away from Hungarians. Given the fact that foreigners, migrants and asylum seekers don’t understand Hungarian, a new Council of Europe Report stated that the real target of this campaign were not the migrants but the Hungarian population, leading to a potential increase in racist actions, xenophobia and hatred towards the migrants.[6] Following the example of Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, in June 2015 the Hungarian Government decided to build a fence of 175 km long on the border with Serbia in order to stop migrants and asylum seekers from entering Hungary.[7] The work started in July and it was expected to be finished by November but the speed of work was increased to the extent that the fence was finalized by September 15. According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, by 2012 it became clear that the migration routes were shifting and that, as a result, more refugees would arrive in Hungary in the near future. The Hungarian government, however, did nothing in anticipation of such a development. Not enough money was spent to develop a functioning, efficient system. Instead of spending billions on a national consultation, anti-immigration billboards, and fences, the government should have expanded the facilities that house temporary and permanent migrants[8]. On 6 July 2015 the Parliament approved more restrictive asylum rules and made it possible for officials to extend the time for which asylum seekers can be detained and to cancel their applications if they leave their designated place of residence for over 48 hours[9]. After Hungary built the fence on its border with Serbia, the asylum seekers heading towards Western and Northern Europe took longer routes crossing the Croatian, then Slovenian border. On September 16, 2015 Hungarian security forces clashed with asylum seekers at the Hungarian-Serbian border at Röszke and as a result, nine Syrians and one Iraqi were arrested for illegally entering Hungary. The ten individuals are formally accused of forcibly removing the closed gate and entering Hungary illegally. They were identified by the police and taken into custody. Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamás Menczer announced: ‘Whoever attacks the Hungarian border commits an act of terrorism.’ [10] On December 21, 2015 the UN Refugee Agency, the Council of Europe and ODHIR – the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights – have urged Hungary to refrain from policies and practices that promote intolerance, fear and fuel xenophobia against refugees and migrants. The Hungarian Government launched a new public campaign in December, portraying those fleeing war and conflict as criminals, invaders and terrorists based on their religious beliefs and places of origin. The Organizations are collectively stressing the need for the Hungarian Government to acknowledge that refugees are coming to Europe, after having endured trauma, tragedy and loss while searching for hope and dignity to start a new life far from of war and conflict.[11] The political approach of the Hungarian Government towards asylum seekers and refugees in 2015 was built on the “narrative of the nation”[12] and on the reoccurring need to protect “the way of life” of the Hungarians[13]. Civil society approach In an article entitled “Two Faces of a Country: Hungary and The Refugees“, one side of the argument goes that the Government’s campaign against refugees has been a political success, fear and aversion towards refugees has become rampant, prompting some attacks as well. As a result, the government’s scandals of corruption were pushed out of the public’s eye and this allowed the government to portray itself as protecting the people against a manifest threat. The “other face of the country” is the civil society. The Hungarian civil society organised itself quickly to provide help and relief. A number of NGOs and thousands of volunteers, using Facebook and other social media platforms, organised help starting from the provision of food and clothing, following with translation and assistance with administrative matters to trying to reunite families that have been separated in the course of their travels across Europe. Thus, the civil society seem to constitute the last remnant of hope in an ever-growing cloud of darkness, the article concludes. [14] In July 2015 Migszol Szeged, an NGO that distributed food and clothing to asylum seekers, reported receiving offers to volunteer from some 17,000 Hungarians in just one day, while a poll by the television channel RTL found that 55 % of the respondents in Hungary would be willing to help migrants in need.[15] As a response to the Government’s banners with messages against migrants and asylum seekers, members of the civil society and satirical groups wrote different banners in English, in capital letters and posted them in several cities. These banners read: Welcome to Hungary and
Sorry for Our Prime Minister. A satirical group, the Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog, also planned to put up counter-billboards, including one in the Prime Minister’s home town, which reads:
If You Are Hungary’s Prime Minister, You Must Respect Our Laws! Finally, another board posted first on the social media reads:
Feel free to come to Hungary, we are already in England!

In 2014 there were approximately 600.000 Hungarian emigrants living and working in other European countries. This number equals to 15% of the four million people that constitute the work force in Hungary. Most of them live and work in the United Kingdom – approximately 300.000 – while 135.000 work in Germany and 63.000 in Austria.[16] Several thousands of private citizens in Hungary have on their own tried to help refugees, in what may well be the greatest volunteer effort in modern Hungarian history, according to a British newspaper in 2015. But it seems unlikely that anything like a political movement will emerge from this, as every attempt over the last five years to translate civil society activism into effective opposition to Fidesz has failed – concludes the same source.[17] [1] Sebestyén, Rita: In And Out Of Hungary: Migration Trends In A Central-European Country, December 20, 2013, in Culture & Integration, History, Politics & Policy, Public Discourse. Available at http://themigrationist.net/2013/12/20/in-and-out-of-hungary-migration-trends-in-a-central-european-country/, accessed June 23, 2015 [2] http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/hungary-transit-country-between-east-and-west [3] Eurostat: http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/show.do?dataset=migr_asyappctza&lang=en, June 2015 [4] Website of the Prime Minister of Hungary: National consultation on immigration to begin. April 24, 2015, available at http://www.kormany.hu/en/prime-minister-s-office/news/national-consultation-on-immigration-to-begin, accessed April 26, 2015 [5] Kovács, Z., Hungarian Respondents to Questionnaire on Migration for Stricter Measures. June 8, 2015, available at http://www.xpatloop.com/news/hungarian_respondents_to_questionnaire_on_migration_for_stricter_measures, accessed June 9, 2015 [6] Euronews: Hungary ‘told’ to crack down on hate. June 9, 2015. Available at http://www.euronews.com/2015/06/09/hungary-told-to-crack-down-on-hate/, accessed June 14, 2015 [7] Rettman, A., Hungary’s anti-migrant fence draws rebuke. June 8, 2015, available at https://euobserver.com/justice/129176, accessed June 13, 2015 [8] Gyulai, Gabor, Unprepared Hungarian Government Facing a Refugee Crisis. June 28, 2015. Available at http://hungarianspectrum.org/tag/refugee-camps/, accessed July 1, 2015 [9] ECRE Weekly Bulletin, July 10, 2015. Hungary passes legislation severely limiting access to asylum. Available at http://us1.campaign-archive2.com/?u=8e3ebd297b1510becc6d6d690&id=ea80f863b5#Hungary, accessed July 11, 2015 [10] http://budapestbeacon.com/public-policy/hungary-indicts-ten-terrorists-for-crossing-into-hungary-illegally/30713 [11] http://www.unhcr-centraleurope.org/en/news/2015/hungary-urged-to-refrain-from-policies-and-practices-that-promote-intolerance-and-hatred.html [12] Sebestyén, Rita: In And Out Of Hungary: Migration Trends In A Central-European Country, December 20, 2013, in Culture & Integration, History, Politics & Policy, Public Discourse. Available at http://themigrationist.net/2013/12/20/in-and-out-of-hungary-migration-trends-in-a-central-european-country/, accessed June 23, 2015 [13] Balint, M. Viktor Orbán’s Redefinition of the Refugee Crisis. June 27, 2015, available at http://hungarianspectrum.org/tag/refugee-camps/, accessed July 4, 2015 [14] Hungarianspectrum, Two Faces of a Country: Hungary and the Refugees. June 27, 2015, available at http://hungarianspectrum.org/2015/07/22/two-faces-of-a-country-hungary-and-the-refugees/, accessed July 7, 2015 [15] Farrell, Gerry. Caledonia at centre of Hungary Migration Aid. July 22, 2015. Available at http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/opinion/gerry-farrell-caledonia-at-centre-of-hungary-migration-aid-1-3837398, accessed July 27, 2015 [16] Hungarianspectrum, Hungarian immigrants in London and environs. June 8, 2014, available http://hungarianspectrum.org/2014/06/08/hungarian-immigrants-in-london-and-environs/, accessed May 02, 2015 [17] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/06/refugees-budapest-life-stories-europe-keleti-station

The subjective perspective

Before the start of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015, Hungary had very limited legislative and media focus on asylum and migration, leading many to believe that the subsequent turmoil surrounding migrants entering Hungary was merely the consequence of ill preparation. However, considering the resources spent on border fence construction, warning material (in Hungarian!) and the 2016 migrant quota referendum, it might also be argued that the government did indeed prepare for the situation in calculated detail, albeit not in a way that prioritised their obligations under international conventions.

This notion is backed up by the way the Hungarian government controlled media coverage of events, using images of young angry men trying to tear down the fence while only giving a voice to party-loyal Hungarian authorities. Exceptionally problematic is also the introduction of the “Stop Soros Law” which penalises humanitarian aid and restricts both legal and financial channels for NGOs to function independently. It must not be downplayed that, if left unchallenged, the consequences of this law could create the most restricted civil society in the EU with long-term and devastating effects, going way beyond the protection of vulnerable migrants.

To stay on topic, however, we can point out the specific issues found relating to seeking asylum in Hungary. Firstly, the entry has been made extremely difficult through the aforementioned fence and the illegal pushbacks of migrants which are still denied by the government. In addition to this, the detention-like conditions under which asylum seekers are kept in the transit zones are inhumane quite possibly constitute a human rights violation. Moreover, the fact that interviews are often rushed with not enough time for decent case management, interviewing officers lack basic training and interpreting varies dramatically in quality, speaks volumes about the quality of the asylum process and subsequent decision making about human life and safety. This is also exemplified by the fact that the Helsinki Committee win most of the appeals they go in to.

Secondly, in terms of general support, this is very limited in Hungary, both before and after status is given. As already explored in this report, the access to health, psychosocial and special needs support, and to school for children, is made difficult by lack of time, knowledge or willingness by public sector staff, even if the legal right is present. And finally, given that there is no government agency concerned with refugee integration and no real social support after status is given, it is no wonder that refugees leave the country again and that Hungary de facto rejects its responsibility to offer protection to individuals fleeing war and persecution.


Capital: Budapest
Location: Central Europe
EU-member since 2004
Currency: HUF (Forint)
Population: 9,908,800
Min. wage:
Poverty line:
Population under poverty line:


IWB researchers

Lidis Garbovan

logo transp.png



Would you like to join our campaign?

Become a member now!

Lidis Garbovan.jpg