The government will move to change Hungary’s criminal code to make illegal migration a criminal offence rather than a misdemeanour, Minister in Charge of the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár has announced. The motion will be put to Parliament in autumn.
Hungary’s borders are still open at legal entry points, Lázár said. The temporary border fence being built on the southern border will be completed by November, he added. The government would take every possible measure to stop immigrants from “taking over” the country. The government regarded Serbia, Greece and Macedonia as “safe countries”, and migrants would be returned to those places if they were sent back to Hungary from Germany or Austria.
Socialists open HQ to NGOs
The opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) has said it will open up its headquarters in central Budapest to civil organisations providing help to refugees. Ágnes Kunhalmi, the head of the party’s Budapest chapter, said facilities in the offices would be handed over to the NGOs as a logistical and coordination centre. The MP said social peace in Hungary could be maintained through support for refugees, and she condemned the government’s “hate campaign”. The Socialists call on the cabinet to help refugees by putting on special bus services and setting up information points at rail and bus stations, she said. There was a need for new temporary reception camps. In response to a question, Kunhalmi noted that the law does not make it possible for MSZP to house immigrants in the building. The Socialist party decided to sell the valuable office space in downtown Budapest about a year ago. Though the party is yet to reach a deal with a buyer, executives and employees of MSZP have already moved out.
Lázár noted that asylum applications are already being processed amid heightened national security levels. He said children are receiving special treatment and Hungary offers protection and shelter to them, regardless of where they cross into the country. The current refugee camps where large-scale tents were used to house refugees under humane circumstances would not be needed “in such great volumes” after the border fence was erected.
The government decided at Tuesday’s cabinet session that two types of border fences will be erected. The fence stretching along sections of the border that are easier to access will extend 1.5 metres into the ground and three metres above ground. The fence running 2.5 metres from the Hungarian-Serbian border will be equipped with NATO wire. Lázár said simpler fencing will be installed on the 30-40-kilometre section of the border that is harder to access.
Some 980,000 square metres of private property would need to be used during the construction, for which owners would receive a one-time compensation as well as a usage fee. Lázár said signs would be placed on the fence to indicate the nearest legal border crossing, thus allowing “genuine political refugees” to enter.
“One should enter Hungary through the door, not through the wall,” he said. “We are of the old school; we believe that if one wants to enter somewhere, he or she should knock first rather than trying to break through the wall.”
According to government data, the number of illegal border crossers keeps growing and could reach 300,000 by year-end. Over the past few months more illegal immigrants entered Europe through the Balkan Peninsula than through Italy, from the Mediterranean Sea. Hungary has become the country “most exposed” to illegal immigration, Lázár said.
Meanwhile the latest edition of the government’s official gazette published a list of safe countries of origin and safe third countries that includes the Western Balkan nations from which most illegal immigrants arrive.
The list of safe countries under the asylum law includes all EU member states and four candidates for EU membership, namely Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The fifth candidate, Turkey, does not feature on the list, which also includes members of the European Economic Area, US member states where capital punishment is not applied, Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Safe countries of origin are defined by the decree as countries free of wars and persecution. Safe third countries are defined as countries which asylum seekers had already crossed and where they could have applied for refugee status.
Parliament mandated the government in late June to identify “safe” countries from where asylum-seekers would be rejected. Speaking in support of the motion, Fidesz MP Lajos Kósa said that “if someone is a refugee they must stop at the place where their lives are no longer threatened”.
According to a survey published this week by the right-leaning think-tank Századvég, the majority of Hungarians support the government’s decision to erect a fence. Sixty-one percent agreed with implementing a temporary border closure to stem the massive inflow of illegal migrants, while 27 percent disagree with the government’s plans. A total of 12 percent of respondents could not, or did not, want to answer the question.
The think-tank’s report said respondents’ views were strongly influenced by their political affiliation. The border fence received approval from respondents who identified themselves as right-wing, centrist, as well as those who were uncertain of their affiliation, but only 32 percent of respondents identifying themselves as left-wing agreed with the border closure.
The issue of the border fence will certainly remain a part of the conversation as immigration is a hot topic throughout the European Union. In the autumn senior officials of the EU will meet in Budapest for a conference on migration. According to Interior Minister Sándor Pintér, only the date needs to be finalised.
Pintér said on Monday that EU ministers have agreed in Brussels that the member states would receive on a voluntary basis 54,760 refugees and asylum-seekers from conflict zones as well as from Italy and Greece, the two EU member states in which most migrants arrive.
He confirmed that Hungary would not take in any migrants from either category because the council accepted that the country is exposed to a huge and growing migratory pressure unparalleled along the EU’s external borders. “More asylum requests have been submitted in Hungary than in Italy and Greece taken together,” Pintér said.
Protest against fence
A demonstration was held this week against the border fence being erected on Hungary’s border with Serbia and tightened migrant laws. The organiser, migrants rights group MigSzol, said protesters gathered in front of the Basilica in central Budapest and voiced their opposition to the government’s “portrayal of migrants as economic immigrants”. Speakers addressing the event said building a fence on the border will not solve problems. Addressing protesters, Júlia Iván, a representative of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organisation, said with the new migrant laws Hungary has “delisted from among the ranks of civilised European nations”. She said it was cynical to regard someone fleeing from war as an economic migrant. Later the demonstrators moved to Parliament square where they symbolically dismantled a fence. On the subject of migrants, the head of Parliament’s defence and law enforcement committee said the number of illegal migrants in Hungary could reach 140,000-160,000 by year-end. Lajos Kósa told public news channel M1 on Tuesday that many migrants are assisted by human traffickers, paying USD 3,000-6,000 “in hope of finding a better life in Austria, Germany or Scandinavia”. He said they often destroy their “Schengen papers received in Greece”, which causes further problems.