In 2015, Hungary was the second European Union country, behind Greece, to apprehend irregular migrants at its external borders with 411,515 recorded crossings. However, the construction of the fences at the two Southern borders with Serbia and Croatia in September and October 2015 respectively, put Hungary outside the Western Balkan migratory route. Prior to the completion of the fences and the start of the migration crisis in summer 2015, the average daily arrivals in Hungary was 274 people/day. During the months of June, July, and August the average number of registered arrivals in Hungary increased 447% to 1,500 persons/day. The increase of daily arrivals in the country continued during the months of September and October in 2015. In these two months, the average daily arrivals recorded were higher than 7,000 people. In the months of November and December 2015 the daily arrivals in Hungary dropped to a record low of 10 people/day. Since January 2016 the number of daily arrivals to Hungarian territory has increased each month. The percentage increase from January to February was 355% (from 18 persons/day to 82 persons/day), while from February to March there was a 48 % increase of average daily apprehended migrants (from 82 persons/day to 116 persons/day). While there initially was a 20% increase in arrivals between Jan-Feb 2017 (138 persons/day to 166 persons/day), this number dropped by 78% in March to 37 persons/day and by 94% in December to 10 persons/day. At the beginning of 2021, 860 persons have been detained after having crossed the border illegally according to Chief Security Advisor György Bakondi.
A series of amendments to asylum legislation caused many changes in the arrival procedures and overall treatment of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection in Hungary. Between August and September 2015, together with the completion of the fence, Hungary designated Serbia as a safe third country, allowed for expedited asylum determination, and limited procedural safeguards. Additionally, climbing through the border fence or damaging it became a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment.
A system of transit zones was also implemented in 2015, representing the only place where migrants can legally enter the country, in Röszke and Tompa. Migrants often remained in pre-transit zones in Serbia, where ‘community leaders’ established lists of those who want to enter Hungary. Since mid-January 2018 only 1 person/day was allowed to enter Hungary in each transit zone, which resulted in the increase of the already long waiting time (often up to 1 year) in Serbia.
In 2016, a new amendment to Asylum Law prescribed police to push migrants who had “illegally” entered the territory and were apprehended within 8km from the border, back to the other side of the border fence. More amendments have been subsequently adopted to decrease or suppress the different support mechanisms to asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection. In March 2017, new revisions to Asylum Law were enacted that decreed all irregular migrants be pushed back to the Southern border. By virtue of the latter measures, the refoulement to Serbia fence border was extended to all the irregular migrants that were already staying in the country (9,136 in 2017, 4,151 in 2018, 11,101 in 2019 and 25,603 in 2020). As a result, more than 71,000 people have been removed since 2016. While it was only possible to make an asylum application in a transit zone, asylum seekers, including children over the age of 14, were detained throughout the time of their procedure. The above asylum policies have been highly criticized on the basis of international and EU law as many international actors have argued that effective access to protection and the principle of non-refoulement are not upheld. Due to reception conditions in Hungary, several EU members states have chosen to stop transfers to Hungary under the Dublin III mechanism. Hungary was also condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in the Ilias and Ahmed v. Hungary case of Mach 2017. The Court ruled that the detention of migrants in transit zones qualified as a violation of the right to liberty and challenged the legality of the detention centers policies. According to following ruling of the Grand Chamber in November 2019, the detention of migrants in transit zones without a formal decision and due process safeguards was qualified as arbitrary detention.
In 2015 the European Commission initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary concerning its asylum legislation. After several steps taken by the Commission, in January 2018 the European Court of Justice revealed that it will have heard the case against Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland regarding the infringement procedure for their refusal to abide by the decision on EU refugee quotas.
As a result of the CJEU judgement held in May 2020 (Joined Cases C-924/19 PPU and C-925/19 PPU), Hungary decided to no longer apply the procedure based on transit zones. The new legal measures have been introduced through the adoption of the Transitional rules and Epidemiological Preparedness related to the Cessation of the State of Danger. By May 2020, asylum seekers shall receive a single-entry permit before applying for asylum in the Hungarian territory. However, they are requested to submit «a statement of intent» at the Hungarian Embassy either of Belgrade or, before the war started on the 24th of February, Kyiv to gain the permit. Substantially, this amendment has rendered complicated the asylum procedure for applicants. Indeed, only 30 applications have been submitted during 2021. Consequently, the EU Commission referred Hungary to the CJEU over its failure to comply with the previous Court judgement C808/18.
Since 2015, five infringement procedures relating to asylum policies have been opened by the European Commission against Hungary. The procedures were initiated in response to the restrictions of access implemented by Hungary, especially referring to its refusal to abide by the decision on EU refugee quotas or the establishment of the notification of intent to seek protection through external diplomatic representation as compulsory precondition.
Collectively, these asylum policies have greatly impacted the number of asylum seekers in Hungary. Between September 2015 and 31 December 2016, 2,895 people were taken to court for “prohibited crossing of the border closure” and a majority were convicted. In 2016, the Asylum Authorities made 54,586 decisions on asylum applications: 49,479 of them were suspended and 4,675 were rejected. According to Eurostat, less than 1% of the asylum applications were accepted (425); this is the lowest acceptance rate in the EU. Between July 2016 and the end of March 2017 21,806 migrants were pushed back beyond the border in accordance with the ”8 km-distance-to-the-border” rule. In 2017, the Asylum Authorities made 3,397 decisions on claims for international protection, 2,049 claims were suspended and 2,880 rejected, while only a small proportion of claims were accepted (1291). At the end of April 2018, Hungarian authorities reported apprehending 19,419 irregular migrants who had entered Hungary through different points along the Hungarian border since the beginning of the year. In 2020, 73,3% of asylum applications were rejected. Meanwhile, positive decisions were granted based on refugee status (17,6%) and subsidiary protection (9,1%).
- Trafficking in Persons Report 2017
- The World Factbook
- The World FactbookThe World DataBank – World Development Indicators
- UNDP Human Development Reports
- UN International Migrant Stock: The 2013 revision
- UNSD Demographic Statistics
- United Nations Multilingual Terminology Database
- World Development Indicators
- World Bank staff calculation
- United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
- Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision
- UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2013
- Interior Ministry of Hungary
- Maps by Matthew Chwastyk and Ryan Williams, National Geographic
- Seeming Project The Economist: More vacancies than visitors, Sept 19th 2015
- USDS 2017 Trafficking in Persons report
- Hungarian Central Statistical Office
- World Bank - Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016
- Eurostat - Asylum quarterly report
- European Commission
- Asylum Information Database (AIDA)