Hungary limits refugees’ rights to seek asylum and access protection

Hungary adopted a new law that makes it a crime to help refugees, asylum-seekers or migrants.

This means that anyone — from lawyers to community volunteers — who helps asylum-seekers with filling out forms, legal advice or information on the asylum process will be penalized.

Penalties range from temporary confinement to imprisonment of up to 1 year or expulsion from the country. Authorities will prevent anyone who is accused of violating this new law from approaching the transit zones and border area, even without being convicted.

You may also hear the law referred to as the "Stop Soros" law, a reference to Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros who helps fund organizations supporting refugees, and is frequently demonized by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing party.

How does this affect my legal rights as an asylum-seeker?

The new law bars most asylum-seekers from accessing protection in Hungary. As human rights organizations and lawyers are now automatically banned from the border areas and transit zones, it will be more difficult to access legal assistance.

In practice, the law limits your right to receive information and legal representation from a lawyer of your choice — violating your right to a fair trial. This effectively prevents you from accessing the legal system or appealing a negative asylum decision.

If, however, you can appeal your negative asylum decision, you have only 3 days to do it.

How else does this affect me as an asylum-seeker?

According to the new law and a constitutional amendment, only people arriving in Hungary directly from a place where their life or freedom are at risk, can apply for asylum.

If you arrived in Hungary through a country where you were not persecuted like Serbia, Bulgaria or Bosnia, the asylum authorities will automatically deny you protection and not assess your claim.

This means that the authorities will first examine whether you come from a safe country of origin, or passed through a country considered safe before arriving in Hungary. The legal organization, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), calls this the “inadmissibility procedure.”

According to the HHC, authorities do not assess the merits of your asylum claim during this procedure. This only happens after authorities determine you’ve arrived directly from a country where your life was threatened, and allow you to apply for asylum.

The following countries are classified as safe third countries in Hungary:

According to the changes that took effect on 28 March 2017, you can only seek asylum in the two transit zones located on the border with Serbia. However, Serbia is a safe third country according to Hungary, and as such, you can’t apply for asylum unless your life is at risk there.

If they find your application unacceptable for the above reasons, you have the right to explain why your application should be accepted, in the transit zone. You can also challenge the inadmissibility decision in court.

Where can I get legal aid?

You can request free legal assistance from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) if you applied for asylum with the Hungarian Office of Immigration and Asylum. You can request an attorney from HHC, in any language you speak, immediately after entering the transit zone.

HHC attorneys can support their clients and asylum-seekers who specifically request their assistance in the transit zones.

How does this new law affect the “Hungary list”?

On the same day the law was adopted, Hungarian authorities temporarily stopped the admission of asylum-seekers from Serbia. The temporary suspension is now over. However, we weren’t able to get official information about the list and the process.

Since January 2018, only an average of 2 persons per weekday can enter the transit zones in Hungary to submit an asylum application.

Why is the international community not preventing Hungary from violating our human rights?

Before the legislation was passed by Hungary’s Parliament, the Council of Europe, UNHCR and the UN Human Rights Commissioner had requested the Hungarian Government not to proceed with the law. Hungary ignored their calls.

Hungary’s parliament passed the legislation on June 20, World Refugee Day — just 2 days before the draft was supposed to be examined and discussed at the Venice Commission, which is the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters.

It entered into force on July 1 after Hungary’s president, Janos Ader, signed the bill.

While the government claims that they created the law to secure the border and prevent smuggling, it also blocks people’s access to protection and punishes those who show solidarity with asylum-seekers.

This breaches the rights that are protected by the European Union Convention on Human Rights and the European Union Charter on Fundamental Rights, and thus are also against Hungarian domestic law itself.

In mid-July, the European Commission decided to refer Hungary to the European Union’s top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), for its failure to comply with EU asylum laws. This legal request could lead to ECJ imposing financial sanctions against Hungary.

Other human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, are also standing up against Hungary’s new law.

If you want to get legal help in Hungary with your asylum case, you can send an email or a Facebook message to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

Cover photo © UNHCR/Zsolt Balla