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On August 22nd, 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Hungarian authorities had stopped distributing food to asylum seekers who have been denied refugee status in the country but are seeking to appeal their cases. Hungary’s policy of denial has been ongoing since the beginning of August and denies asylum seekers from buying their own food or receiving donations from outside groups. Those refused entry and status are held in transit zones on the Hungarian-Serbian border and can be subject to deportation even if they appeal their cases. Among those recently rejected status and food were two Afghan families and a pair of brothers from Syria. This repudiation of Hungary’s obligations as a European Union member breaches human rights law; however, it is entirely consistent with its stringent rhetoric and actions regarding asylum seekers and migrants more broadly.
Many have condemned Hungary’s actions and regarded the move as strategic. Lydia Gall, Eastern EU and Balkans researcher for HRW noted, “this disregard for people’s wellbeing smacks of a cynical move to force people to give up their asylum claims and leave Hungary.” However, Hungary has relinquished any suggestions that it has an obligation to assist these people with the dignity and humanity that is required in many of the human rights treaties it has signed. The Immigration and Asylum Office (IAO) stated on August 20th that there exists no obligation under Hungarian law for authorities to provide food to people in the “aliens policing procedure” in the transit zones. Additionally, amendments to Hungary’s asylum seeker laws in July have made it a criminal offense to provide support, advice or services to migrants and asylum seekers. Attempts by those seeking to provide food on their own accord, have thus been thwarted.
Although the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ordered Hungarian authorities to distribute food for the two Afghan families and Syrian brothers, these actions have required emergency appeals to be filed. Appropriately, Gall strongly remarked that, “it’s completely outrageous and absurd that people have to turn to the courts to get a slice of bread.” It should not be subject to case by case analysis that human rights obligations are respected. While the EU has condemned Hungary for its actions particularly its efforts to demonize organisations that provide humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers, bolder moves beyond rhetoric must amass to remind Hungary that violating EU rules will have serious consequences.
Viktor Orban, Hungary’s populist Prime Minister, has consistently taken a tough stance on refugees and migrants since the 2015-16 migration crisis. Hungary has passed laws which attempt to discourage people from seek asylum or transiting through its borders to other European states. According to HRW, those asylum claims made by people who entered Hungary, or any other country listed as a ‘safe’ third country under Hungarian law are almost all deemed inadmissible and thus most are subject to deportation. The demonizing of those seeking to assist asylum seekers with their basic human rights was part of a group of laws known as the “Stop Soros package”. They were initially targeted towards Hungarian-born philanthropist billionaire, George Soros, who funded many NGO’s and development organisations internationally. These laws are now subject to court challenges by the European Commission.
The international community, especially Europe, should move beyond condemnation and enact measures which will actually deter Hungary from adopting laws which undermine international refugee law and human rights. As a member of the EU, it should not be allowed to reap the benefits of an open community while closing its own. The European Parliament could activate Article 7 of the Treaty, which suspends Hungary’s voting rights, a consistent move if Hungary continues to breach EU values.