Asylum seekers discriminated against based on religion

September 11, 2015

Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog
Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog

Hungarian television broadcaster RTL Klub reports the government is violating international agreements by selectively providing asylum and even citizenship to refugees claiming to be Christians.

Hungary’s rapidly changing laws governing the protection of asylum seekers practically mandate that asylum requests from refugees entering Hungary illegally via Serbia be rejected.  Never one to practise what it preaches, the government of Hungary is finding ways to provide asylum and citizenship to refugees claiming to be Christians.

“Is that a problem for you?” responded Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog when asked about the government’s preferential treatment of refugees who claim to be Christians.

Iraqi and Egyptian Christian families had been provided asylum and Hungarian citizenship because they could prove they were refugees being persecuted for their religious beliefs, Balog said at a conference in Paris this week.

“[The families] were able to provide us guarantees we felt ensured the country would not be exposed to the danger of compromising our security. Their presence would enrich the country,” he said.

The government had thoroughly reviewed whether the asylum seekers were really Christians. “We did everything in accordance with Hungarian law. What makes this different from other forms of [asylum requests] is that because we were dealing with persecuted Christian families, we asked their local churches to confirm the families’ faith and ran the families through a national security screening so that we knew the kind of people we were welcoming,” Balog said.

A breach of international agreements

The rules say that no country can be selective in who they provide asylum to based on the asylum seeker’s religion, according to a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Such preferential treatment constitutes a violation of international agreements.

“The United Nations convention on refugees says that [countries] cannot be selective like this with asylum seekers,” says Ernő Simon, a spokesman for the UNHCR in Hungary.

“What Hungary is doing goes against the agreement that it signed,” says Simon.

He says the consequences of Hungary’s discriminative selection process will be determined by international authorities.

Hungarian opposition politician Tamás Harangozó (Hungarian Socialist Party, MSZP) says the government may have violated its own laws if it secretly awarded citizenship without requiring that individuals in question pass a citizenship test, including a Hungarian language test.

“I’d like someone to tell me how these Christian families from Egypt and Iraq are any different . . . from the Syrian people [currently kept at Hungary’s border registration camps], one-third of whom happen to be Christian and fled to Hungary to escape Islamic State,” says the MSZP politician.

RTL Klub reports that the government has yet to respond to an inquiry asking whether it will continue use the religion of asylum seekers as a factor when processing asylum requests.