Analysis 2017/7: About the building blocks of Hungarian migration policy

November 6, 2017

Analysis 2017/7: About the building blocks of Hungarian migration policy

Analysis 2017/7: About the building blocks of Hungarian migration policy

About the building blocks of Hungarian migration policy

Analysis by Balázs Orbán


The Hungarian “pilot project” works.

Our message to Brussels: Enough of the criticism, the Hungarian “pilot project” works!


The building blocks of Hungarian migration policy

Most EU countries, including Hungary, live under the spell of the migration crisis that started in 2015. It has become hard to debate that due to its answers to the issue of migration, Hungary is one of the most important trend setters in Europe – of course, opinions vary whether this role is a positive or a negative one, but our daily experience is that people in Europe pay attention to the Hungarian standpoint.

This distinct position is gained by the steps taken in 2015, in connection with setting up a fence at the border.

From this starting point, it also follows that we do not speak much about the Hungarian migration policy being in place – in its fullness – not since 2015 in reality, but since 2017.

We may say that the last building block of the Hungarian migration policy was put in place in 2017 only.

The situation between 2015 and 2017

The case is that although the asylum procedure conducted at the border (or the institution of the transit zone) exists since September 15, 2015, the construction is truly at work in its definite form only since the legislative changes that came into effect on March 28, 2017.

The essence of the transit zone procedure, also known under EU law, is that member states can conduct the asylum procedure at the border as well, especially in case of a high number of applicants. The top limit of the transit zone procedure set by the Union is four weeks, after which entry into the country must be permitted[1]. Having regard to the EU law, the essence of the Hungarian system between 2015 and 2017 was that the top limit of the transit zone procedure was set at four weeks, during which time the Hungarian authorities could only decide on the preliminary investigation, or admissibility of the application. Typically, this was done by evaluating several applications unacceptable, since Serbia had been pronounced a safe country.

Two problems arose in connection with this practice:

On the one hand – due to the top limit present in the EU law –, the transit zone procedure could not continue after four weeks, and the applicant had to be admitted to an open reception center located in the inner areas of the country, while in most cases, judicial redress procedures were still under way, and there was no legally binding decision concerning the applicant’s case yet.

On the other hand – and this has to be admitted subsequently – the concept of pronouncing Serbia a safe third country is very hard to implement in practice. The essence of the concept is that a rebuttable legal presumption is set regarding each individual seeking recognition, the basis of which is that Serbia is considered safe for that person. But the essence of a rebuttable presumption is that it can be proved otherwise. In practice, “defending” the overburdened Serbian asylum system was not an easy task for the Hungarian authorities. This presumption was in many cases not only rebuttable, but also rebutted.

Results and challenges between 2015 and 2017

Notwithstanding the hardships described above, it is undeniable that after September 15, 2015 (1) the fence averted the wave of migration from Hungary, (2) together with the closed borders on the Balkans and the EU-Turkish agreement, sent a clear message to people considering departure, and thus reduced the influx, (3) and shepherded people towards the regular channels of migration.

In addition, looking at the 2015–2017 time period we may conclude that border control on the borders secured with a fence worked well, while most of the asylum seekers making it through the transit zone procedure did not even show up at the open reception center designated for them, but headed right towards a West-European country.

And those who did show up, only stayed for a few days, and then went right on, thus violating their “obligation to be available”, as the authorities would say it.

And we cannot say that this is not our problem, since secondary migration within the country in and of itself generates serious responsibilities for the authorities. More importantly, the ongoing “filter through” causes serious difficulties for the West-European countries, and – from their point of view – the only effective measure against this is the restoration of a stricter internal border control within the Schengen area. Here, we have to be very bold: the establishment of an ever-stricter control at the internal borders, a cracking Schengen would be an economic disaster for Hungary. This is because Hungary is among the most outstanding economical beneficiaries of the Schengen system, as indicated by an analysis[2] conducted by the European Parliament and Morgan Stanley.

The last building block that came into effect in March of 2017

The legislative amendment that came into effect in March 28, 2017, was meant to fill the gaps detailed above. The essence of the new system is that everyone – except for persons with special needs – applies for international protection in the transit zone only, and all applicants should stay in the transit zone until the legally binding outcome of the application – without a top limit on the time period.

(Persons with special needs are unaccompanied minors or vulnerable persons – especially minors, elderly people, disabled people, pregnant women, single parents with minor children, and victims of torture, rape or other serious forms of psychological, physical or sexual violence –, who can be observed to have special needs upon an individual evaluation of their situation.)

Simply put, we can say that out of the people arriving at the border of Hungary in an irregular way – except for groups positively discriminated for humanitarian reasons, only those whom the Hungarian authorities pronounce to be entitled to international protection in a legally binding way, can stay in the territory of Hungary according to the law.

The amendment (again) triggered great international indignation. Several international organizations put forth criticism, and the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg pronounced even the earlier – less strict, but less organized as well – procedure to be a violation of international law (this is criticized here[3]).

The European Commission was rather critical in several points, while there seemed to be a faint line behind the curtains that looked upon this new system as some kind of a “pilot project”. Due to this “pilot-project” feature, the new transit zone procedure did not receive a full-fledged attack, because there was a feeling that this was a new, innovative approach, worthy of consideration, which can later prove to be operational for other countries as well. Now the situation is that we still do not see which interpretation will gain the upper hand, but it is as if the approach that is critical of Hungary would dominate the steps of the European Commission.

How shall we evaluate all this?

First of all, people who come to Hungary should be treated with a humanitarian approach. It is not their fault that forces made up of people smugglers, politicians and NGOs deceive, cheat and exploit them. (Just in case anyone would have a different opinion, I would like to add that the international position of the Hungarian standpoint becomes stronger if people arriving are treated well, and weaker if news go out about them being mistreated.)

It is reassuring from all aspects that the transit zones operating in Röszke and in Tompa – though various legends go around about them – provide the following conditions, which I have recently seen with my own eyes: Health and social services are provided according to a specified order in the transit zones, and the same care is provided, specific to age and health condition, as in the reception centers, except that both the sanitary kits and the meals are distributed only in kind, not in money. The authorities have to fulfill pedagogical and educational responsibilities in suitable facilities.

Considering the best interest of gender, age, family status, and the principle of family unity, the following groups are accommodated in separate quarters: families, single women, unaccompanied minors between age 14 and 18, and single men. In these quarters, they are provided accommodation, sanitary facilities, access to mass media and communication, room fit for worship, three (five for minors under age 14) meals a day – with dairy products and fruit each day for minors under age 14 and for pregnant women or mothers with small children.

In the transit zone, several civil society organizations and volunteers assist the work of social workers and the health care personnel.

People seeking recognition can access free legal assistance. Finally, a crucial factor is that due to the authorities being present, the transit zones lack the people trafficking and other criminal groups common to other camps. In an international comparison, we can say that the conditions of the Hungarian transit zones are more than adequate.

Second, and this might seem surprising at first, and we do not talk about it much, but the Hungarian recognition rates started to increase, due to the legislative amendment. On the one hand, there is a larger proportion of those who are entitled to international protection in most interpretations, arriving at the border, and on the other hand, the authorities do not use the concept of a safe third country any more, but they can conclude a relevant investigation, where the applicants are available throughout the process. Statistics from the Immigration and Asylum Office clearly show that the annual recognition rate went up to 29%, while the Eurostat data indicates that the recognition rate[4] of the second quarter is up to 47% (!). The same number was 16% in the second quarter of 2015[5], and it went down to only 10% in the second quarter of 2016[6].

Third, and this should be well articulated, experiences from the last two and a half years indicate that without the principle of the asylum seeker not being allowed to enter the territory of the European Union and move freely within until his or her application is evaluated, the recent migration crisis cannot be handled effectively. For without this principle, we favor those who choose irregular channels, and disadvantage those who would be willing to use the regular channels. This way, we draw people towards Europe through irregular migration channels.

But if we take this principle seriously (namely, that the decisions must be made outside the territory of the European Union or – in case of a land border – or at the border of the European Union), then it can be done only with limitations on the applicants’ freedom to move. It simply does not work otherwise!

Of course, the Hungarian transit zone procedure is not the same as an asylum detention, because the zone can be freely exited towards Serbia, and the circumstances do not resemble detention, but those customary to reception centers. Still, it is true that the freedom of movement on the part of people concerned is limited automatically, without individual decisions, simply because the application is submitted, and this limitation remains not only for four weeks allowed by the EU law, but beyond. Consequently, criticism, fight, legal and political arguments are unavoidable, they are simply encoded.

However, the experiences of the last two and a half years, the trend-setter role indicates that the arguments should be shouldered. The permanent, high-impact migration pressure leaves no other way for the European Union.

There is only one way, to go forward. We must provide fair treatment for everyone, both in terms of care and in terms of evaluating entitlement to international protection, but we must limit their freedom of movement to maintain control over the migration policy.

In a classic paraphrase:

Our message to Brussels: Enough of the criticism, the Hungarian “pilot project” works!

Getting ready: Italy and the rest…


Original publication:
October 17, 2017. 8:02 AM