EC expresses concerns over changes to Hungary refugee law

October 7, 2015

ec

The European Commission (EC) has begun officially examining changes made to Hungary refugee laws.  The EC officially expressed its concerns in a letter addressed to the head of the Hungarian delegation to Brussels,  to which it expects to receive a quick response.  In a copy obtained by daily online index.hu, Brussels objects to the involvement of the army and the absence of special rules pertaining to children.   The EC is also waiting information about what happened at Röszke.

The EC expects to receive an answer within two weeks from the Hungarian government concerning changes made to Hungary’s refugee laws.  According to the letter obtained by index.hu, Brussels has both objected to and expressed its concerns regarding decisions taken by the Hungarian government and parliament on the subject of refugees, from the acceleration of the process of evaluating asylum requests to making it a crime to cross Hungary’s border illegally.

The letter is addressed to Olivér Várhelyi, the head of the Hungarian delegation to Brussels, and signed by the European director responsible for refugee matters in addition to the head of the legal directorate. In this letter they write that, while the EC has not received any official notification about the changes, it has already completed a preliminary review of the new Hungarian regulations.  At such times the EC examines the compatibility of the regulations with EU law.   According to the letter, the preliminary study gave rise to numerous concerns which are summarized in a ten page attachment to the letter.

The itemized concerns are for the most part the same as those raised by Hungarian legal and civil rights defenders such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Amnesty International.  The main points of concern are the following:

  • the possibility of systematically rejecting asylum requests submit at the Serbian border, and the absence of any effect means of legal redress
  • the fact that it is now a criminal offense to illegal cross into Hungary via a secured border and the absence of assurance of legal redress
  • the closure of the border crossing points
  • the powers given to the army with regard to patrolling Hungary’s borders and the guarantees and means of legal redress
  • the absence of special provisions for children

In addition to the above concerns, the EC is awaiting an explanation from the Hungarian government concerning the events of September 16th at Röszke when police clashed with refugees and asylum seekers at the Serbian-Hungarian border.  The EC would like to know why the Hungarian police employed force against women and children.

The ten page attachment to the letter details at length the various topics.  For example, with regard to the right to legal defense, it addresses the issue of whether or not the defendant’s mother tongue is to be sued on criminal cases involving the scaling of fences.  According to the new Hungarian rules, the regulation requiring that the most important official documents be translated into the defendant’s native tongue no longer apply.  With regard to the final decision, the new rules only require that it be translated into a EU language.

For the past few weeks this has become the Hungarian practice for the court to ask recently convicted migrant whether they request a written translation.  Almost everyone answers in the negative.  The Hungarian government means that this offer combined with verbal translation satisfies the law with regard to the use of mother tongue in legal proceedings.

Index.hu posed several questions to government international spokesman Zoltán Kovács but has yet to receive an answer.

In June of this year the European Parliament passed a resolution according to which Hungary’s legislative and judicial practices do not reflect fundamental European values and “are not acceptable to democratic principles, including the rule of law, and to basic rights.”  The European Parliament at that time asked the executive organ of the EU, the EC, to initiate the procedure whereby it compels Hungary to bring its laws and practices into line with EU law.

Hungarian socialist MEP István Ujhelyi used Monday’s plenary session to asked EC president Jean-Claude Junckers to account for the EC’s failure to issue its report, proposing that instead of suspending Hungary’s right to vote per article 7, that the committee insist on the report being issued.