By Jack Lawrie
Hungary is detaining refugees in border camps for up to weeks at a time, where they await deportation either to the nearest transit country, or back to their country of origin, according to reports from the Human Rights Watch.
As the European Commission debates whether these incidents pose a threat to the rule of law, Human rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks has potentially shaken things up with the release of his written observations from a visit to Hungary conducted late November last year.
“Due to sweeping changes introduced in Hungary in asylum law and practice over recent months, asylum seekers returned there run a considerable risk of being subject to human rights violations” said Commissioner Muižnieks.
Hungary recently introduced criminalisation of migrants and asylum seekers by establishing offences related to illegal crossing of the border fence. This fast-track criminalisation process not only affects refugees entering the country, but those who have been transferred there via the Dublin III Regulation.
The Commissioner noted that Hungarian legislation deems Serbia a safe third country for the transit of refugees, meaning those that are not sent back to their home country are likely to end up there. The issue with that is that the UNHCR recommended that Serbia is not a safe third country for refugees, on the grounds that refugees sent to Serbia would be then expelled to Macedonia, noted for “outstanding gaps in its asylum system”. No other member state besides Hungary recognises Serbia as a safe third country.
Another area that came under scrutiny was the capacity to identify vulnerable asylum seekers, such as those suffering from the effects of trauma or PTSD. The Commissioner mentioned reports of several underage persons being placed in detention centres against EU law principles due to “highly questionable age-assessment tests”.
The Commissioner also criticised the anti-refugee rhetoric used by Hungarian ministers and leaders, calling it an “additional manifestation of the Hungarian government’s negative stance on human rights”. He has called for a judicial review of the lawfulness of asylum detention as foreseen by the European Convention on Human Rights.