The European Migration Crisis and Hungary
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.
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. In 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, and they remain the only place where migrants can legally enter the country, in Röszke and Tompa. Migrants often remain in pre-transit zones in Serbia, where ‘community leaders’ establish lists of those who want to enter Hungary. Since mid-January 2018 only 1 person/day is allowed to enter Hungary in each transit zone, which will most probably result 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. While it is only possible to make an asylum application in a transit zone, asylum seekers, including children over the age of 14, are 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 member 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 March 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 centres policies.
In 2015 the European Commission initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary concerning its asylum legislation. After a number of steps taken by the Commission In January 2018 the European Court of Justice revealed that it will hear 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.
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. 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. At the end of April 2018, Hungarian authorities reported apprehending 19419 irregular migrants who had entered Hungary through different points along the Hungarian border since the beginning of the year. The number of asylum seekers fell to 29,432 people seeking asylum in Hungary in 2016, while they were 177,135 in 2015. These asylum seekers were mainly coming from Afghanistan (11,052), Syria (4,979), Pakistan (3,873), Iraq (3,452) and Iran (1,286). 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. 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). These asylum seekers mainly came from Afghanistan (1,432), Iraq (812), Syria (577), Pakistan (163) and Iran (109). In the first quarter of 2018, the Asylum Authorities made 502 decisions on asylum applications, of which 265 were rejected. Positive decisions were granted based on humanitarian reasons (10), refugee status (25), and subsidiary protection (210).