With the opposition and civil organisations keeping pressure on Fidesz to back off and leave migrants alone, the ruling party is now pushing for the stricter laws on the issue to go before parliament before the summer recess. Meanwhile an NGO collected more than HUF 15 million in just two days to launch an anti-anti-migration billboard campaign from July 1.
The Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Párt – the Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party – has been known so far for its failed mock campaigns – for example, promising a mountain and space station when running for mayor of Szeged – but their latest idea was a resounding success. The organisation set out to collect HUF 3 million over two weeks to buy 50 billboards for a month, but in just two days the amount collected reached the HUF 15 million mark.
“We are getting about a million an hour, which we absolutely did not expect,” Gergő Kovács, who came up with the idea, told news portal Index, adding that it is no longer unimaginable that they will collect enough money to launch a national campaign. Plans for billboard texts include “Feel free to come to Hungary, we are already working in England”, “Welcome to Hungary” and “If you leave Hungary, be sure to come back”.
The billboard campaign of the government was the source of plenty of controversy as some minor parties called on citizens to destroy the billboards. Some trying to do so were caught by police, and opposition parties alleged that taxpayer money was spent on protecting the advertisements instead or protecting the people.
The opposition Együtt party has called on the interior minister to reveal the details of security measures if any had been taken in connection with the billboard campaign. The billboards have triggered widespread criticism and activists defaced many of them in an “expression of political opinion”, Levente Pápa, the party’s deputy leader, said on Tuesday.
Pápa said it was “outrageous” that “old political policing methods” were used when three police teams were ordered to guard the billboards overnight at the weekend.
He said the 24-hour guarding of the billboards was unnecessary and kept police from doing their job.
Zoltán Balog, the Minister for Human Resources, denied in Parliament on Monday that police security has been ordered for the billboards.
Együtt said it was organising a movement to tear down the billboards and some of the party’s activists were involved, including leader Viktor Szigetvári. Several activists reported themselves to police voluntarily after defacing billboards in the city and Együtt said it would “stand by its activists”.
The Socialists called it “revolting” that police were watching the government’s “xenophobic billboards” instead of protecting tax-paying citizens. The Democratic Coalition said it would turn to the chief prosecutor to question the legality of the billboards.
The radical nationalist Jobbik party said the issue was “overblown” on both sides, with the government ordering police to guard the postings and the left encouraging their defacement.
Ruling party Fidesz said Szigetvári should stop encouraging “vandalism” and “inducing people to aggressive and unlawful actions”.
Then on Tuesday Fidesz deputy party leader Lajos Kósa announced that they want stricter laws on migrants to go before Parliament before the summer recess. The amendment authorises police to turn back migrants who arrive in Hungary from so-called safe countries, Kósa said.
In line with the amended law, applications for asylum would be accepted only from people arriving from places not included on the list of safe countries, he said, adding that the migration bill being readied for submission by Fidesz lawmakers will contain a list of “safe” countries from where it is assumed that a migrant arriving in Hungary is doing so for economic reasons. It says two categories should exist: “safe countries of origin” and “safe transit countries”.
All of Hungary’s neighbours, except for Ukraine, are countries where nobody’s life is under threat, Kósa said. Other than Ukraine, Serbia was the only non-European Union member neighbour, and Hungarian police were able to control the Hungarian-Serbian border and, if authorised by law, could turn back border violators. European Union directives enable the introduction of such legislation, Kósa insisted.
Some assistance was sent from the European People’s Party (EPP), which – according to MEP Monika Hohlmeier – does not intend to expel Fidesz. In an interview with the daily Magyar Hírlap she said the immigration issue is rather familiar to Germany, and Bavaria in particular.
“We must clearly separate the issues of illegal immigrants, refugees and people arriving from other EU member states,” the EPP MEP said. She added that she would have proposed including “more neutrally phrased questions” in the Hungarian national consultation questionnaire on migration.
Whether because how the questions were phrased or simply due to Hungarians feeling that way, some 90% of respondents to the national consultation agreed that stricter rules should apply to illegal entrants concerning their detention and deportation
According to government spokesman Zoltán Kovács, so far 400,000 questionnaires have been sent back to the government of which 200,000 have been processed. He said responses on the issue of terrorism suggest that Hungarians basically feel safe in their country but perceive a terrorist act as conceivable.
Kovács said about two-thirds of respondents held the opinion that current EU regulations create, in part, the possibility that “illegal immigration might also carry the threat of terrorism”.
Committee report warns of dire conditions at refugee centres
Conditions at Hungary’s refugee reception centres are woeful, according to a report by an advisory body to the Council of Europe. Immigrants are treated harshly and their access to legal aid or support from civil groups is limited, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) said on Tuesday. The number of immigrants to Hungary rose sharply from 2012 to 2013, after the country dropped stipulations under which illegal entrants were automatically detained. As a result, “reception facilities became overcrowded and hygienic conditions and security deteriorated rapidly”.
According to ECRI’s information, 22% of asylum seekers are sent to detention facilities, while “the actual placement of asylum seekers in open reception or detention facilities depends on where there is space at the time, indicating arbitrariness”. Physical or verbal abuse frequently occurs and it is worrying that families with young children are often placed in detention, the report said.
It noted that refugees at some of the facilities have staged protests and some have gone on a hunger strike. The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over the matter in October 2013, ECRI noted, advising Hungary to resort to detention only as a last resort. Refugees, especially families, should be placed at open centres, it added.
Touching on other subjects, the report mentioned “radical right-wing populist party” Jobbik, with its open anti-Gypsy, homophobic and xenophobic hate speech. The authorities were reluctant to respond to hate speech, and “the result is that derogatory remarks about Roma, Jews, LGBT persons, asylum seekers and refugees have become commonplace”.
Racist anti-Roma violence is one of the gravest problems in Hungary, with paramilitary groups staging marches or illegal patrols to intimidate the minority, while the annual Budapest Pride march of the lesbian and gay community has become the target of attacks by neo-Nazi groups, the document said. Hungary’s Roma inclusion strategy has yielded few results so far and has failed to eliminate segregation of Roma children at school, it added.
Hungary’s immigration office BAH said in response that the criticism expressed by ECRI was not based on current data. BAH said a major increase in the number of migrants has also been reported in other EU member states, which casts doubt over the report’s claim that the influx of migrants increased from 2012 to 2013 as a result of changes in Hungarian regulations.
The type of detention introduced on July 1, 2013 is very different from previous practice, and confusing the two can result in drawing incorrect conclusions, the office said. BAH takes special care to respect the rights of people in any type of detention and all complaints are forwarded without delay, it added.
There are social workers, psychologists and doctors working in reception institutions, and their task is to ensure that the rights of the inhabitants are fully respected, BAH said. Figures from 2014 show that only 11% of asylum-seekers were held in detention, it added. The average length of detention was 29 days in the case of single individuals and 11 days in the case of families.
EU should allow members to decide whom to admit, says Orbán
Countries should have the “most fundamental right” to decide which migrants to allow in, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in an interview. The PM criticised the European Union’s migration policies, adding that “if they didn’t force on us unrealistic rules there would be no refugees in Hungary – we would have already sent all those we have here back home”. Orbán insisted that migration rules should either be a national competency or the EU’s rules must be made “realistic”. He said all migrants who come from the direction of Greece and Serbia are no longer political refugees by the time they reach Hungary, because “they are not coming from the countries they are fleeing”.