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UNHCR ‘dismayed’ over Hungarian border restrictions

The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed dismay Friday over additional restrictions at borders further reducing access to Hungaryʼs territory for asylum-seekers and refugees. It also urged the Hungarian government to withdraw a proposed bill that would deprive people fleeing war, violence and persecution of vital support from NGOs and civil society.

For the past few weeks, the UNHCR has observed that the Hungarian authorities are, on average, only allowing two asylum-seekers a day to enter the country through two “transit zones” at the border with Serbia, says a press release sent to the Budapest Business Journal.

Since asylum seekers who attempt to cross the razor-wire border fences are automatically removed, Hungary has practically closed its borders to people seeking international protection, in clear breach of its obligations under international and EU law, says the UNHCR.

The statement adds that the body also has serious concerns at three new legislative proposals submitted by the Hungarian government to Parliament on February 13. It says that these proposals clearly target organizations that support the arrival or stay of asylum-seekers and refugees.

Last week Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe (CoE), likewise expressed serious concerns about proposed additional restrictions on the work of NGOs in Hungary under the so-called “Stop Soros” package of bills submitted by the Hungarian government to Parliament last Tuesday.

Asylum a ‘fundamental right’

“Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right. People should have access to seek protection and no one should be punished for helping those who seek asylum,” said Montserrat Feixas Vihé, the UNHCR’s Regional Representative for Central Europe.

As government support for asylum-seekers and refugees in Hungary has dwindled over time, the role of NGOs has become even more critical, Feixas Vihé noted.

“NGOs play an essential role in advocating for rights and the rule of law, as well as for the delivery of assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers, including medical and psycho-social care, housing, education, employment and legal aid. NGOs complement the work of governments. Their important work should be facilitated, rather than hampered,” she stressed.

The UNHCR is urging the Hungarian government, as the government of an EU Member State, to ensure access to its territory for people seeking international protection. It is also calling on the Hungarian Parliament not to adopt the proposed legislative package, asserting that it is crucial that Hungary remains committed to protecting refugees and asylum-seekers, including by facilitating the essential role and efforts of qualified civil society organizations.

Orbán remains unmoved

This weekend Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered his annual State of the Nation speech, in which he referred among other issues to migration and the UNʼs concerns.

Quoted on the blog of Government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács, Orbán said that “border protection is what’s important and not the mandatory quota... Because if we seal our borders, then nobody will pass without authorization, which means that there’ll be no one to distribute.”

While illegal migration and the “Islamization of Europe” continue to pose serious challenges to the security of Europe, according to the Kovács blog, Orbán warned that there is a “new offensive” coming from European leaders in Brussels, Berlin and Paris who want to force their pro-migration policies upon Hungary.

“We are not alone, we will fight together to stop Soros’s plan in Brussels and the United Nations. If we have enough allies – and we can have enough allies – then I am sure we’ll succeed,” Orbán concluded.