Orban uses coronavirus as excuse to suspend asylum rights in Hungary

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban has used the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to abolish the right to asylum in Hungary, Gerald Knaus, founder of the European Stability Initiative thinktank said on Twitter.

In fact, as Gyorgy Bakondi, national security adviser to the prime minister, announced on March 1: "Hungary has indefinitely suspended access to border transit areas for asylum seekers" because of the risks related to the spread of the COVID-19.

"We observe a certain link between coronavirus and illegal migrants," he said at a press conference, without however giving any data to support his claim.

No cases of COVID-19 in Hungary

In Hungary, no cases of coronavirus have yet been recorded and all 125 tests performed have given a negative result.

According to the government, the majority of illegal migrants travel to Hungary from Iran or through Iran. The majority of recent arrivals are not Syrian; they are mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, he added

As journalist Viktória Serdült points out, Bakondi has not, however, mentioned that Iranians who have come to the Hungarian border from Turkey have been in Turkish detention centres for years, and have certainly not visited Tehran and its surroundings recently.

Iranians are the fourth nationality among asylum seekers in Hungary: just 22 applications behind Afghanistan (185), Iraq (157) and Pakistan (27).

Knaus told Euronews that Orban has for years said "the era of universal human rights is only liberal blabla, hypocrisy. He speaks of 'invasion' in military terms." He added that Hungary's prime minister has already gotten people used to the thought of suspending asylum laws and is "now using this crisis to put an end to it definitively".

Hungary's anti-migrant fence

After the migration crisis of 2015, Hungary erected a fence along the border with Serbia and along with Croatia.

Blocked by the fence, migrants who wish to enter Hungary have no choice but to go through one of the two "transit zones" set up at the border: one in Tompa and one in Röszke.

The asylum applications are processed in stations, set up in shipping containers, surrounded by barbed wire.

There have been numerous reports of violations of law and escalations in the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. Some quote newly operated women handcuffed to hospital beds, cancer patients who are not treated for months or migrants left without food for days.

Less than two asylum applications per day

In fact, Bakondi's announcement only has little effect on the actual situation, as the number of people who have legally made it across the border are few and far between.

Asylum applications are systematically rejected (the rejection rate was 92.4% in 2019) if the authorities prove that the migrants have passed through Serbia or Greece - countries, which are considered to be safe.

According to the figures provided by Bakondi, there are currently 321 people in these transit corridors.

In 2018, 367 people applied for international protection in Hungary. In 2019 this number was 394. Considering the 250 working days. That is less than two approved asylum applications per day on average.

Since December 2019 everything has stopped, the Hungarian NGO "Helsinki Committee" stated. "Only a dozen people have been admitted to Röszke since the beginning of the year."

The NGO also denounces that the de facto provision puts an end to access to asylum in the country because those two transit points are the only ones where asylum applications can be submitted.

András Léderer of the Helsinki Committee calls the link between coronavirus and immigration "the umpteenth step forward with regards to the government's xenophobic hysteria".

Fear of another refugee crisis

Hungary's announcement came after Ankara allowed thousands of migrants to head to the EU, in an attempt to put pressure on European leaders during the Turkish offensive in Syria.

"Hungary will not open its doors and will not let anyone pass," concluded Bakondi, adding that military and police reinforcements will be sent to the country's borders.

Orban has calculated that most European countries are currently more inclined to give up the battle for asylum rights. With that logic, it is the best time to steer the international debate and get rid of all human rights obligations.
Gerald Knaus
European Stability Initiative

Hungarian authorities did not respond to our request for comment.

A suspension in violation of international law

Greece has also announced that it will suspend asylum requests. However, only for a month.

According to Alberto Alemanno, professor of European law at the HEC University of Paris, the Greek suspension represents a "manifest breach of both European asylum law and international humanitarian law by creating an unprecedented mechanism that will likely condemn deserving asylum applicants to deportation and death."

Alemanno suspects that the "only merit" to Greece's actions is to scale up the migration issue politically, in a similarily to Matteo Salvini in Italy — a move that drives the issue forward within the European Commission.

Knaus is more pessimistic. "If you declare a national emergency and the people support you, the national and international courts of justice become very weak. Hungary has already shown that it knows how to ignore the sentences that come from Europe. Politicians must demonstrate today more than ever that it is possible to protect borders without renouncing the protection of human rights ".

The European Commission has already referred Hungary to the European Court of Justice on the grounds of the excessive limits to the right to asylum.

"Neither the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees nor the EU laws represent a legal basis for suspending asylum applications," UNHCR stresses in a statement about tensions at the border between Greece and Turkey.

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