After a two-week break, Minister Overseeing the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár presided over the weekly government press conference Thursday where, among other things, he detailed the Hungarian government’s plans for continuing its fight to keep refugees and asylum-seekers from entering the country.
Immigration and National Defense
European Union leaders met in Malta last week where, according to Lázár, a “breakthrough” was made concerning EU border-protection policy. Lázár said the decisions made in Malta reflect recommendations the Hungarian government has been making for almost a year, namely that offshore “registration camps” be erected in Libya where migrants and asylum-seekers could be kept while the EU decided whether it wants to accept them. The plan, which the Hungarian government has dubbed “Schengen 2”, would include gathering refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat and deporting them to the camps in Libya.
Lázár also provided details of government plans to suspend the right of movement for asylum-seekers in Hungary. He said a new law would be considered by the governing parties next week that would allow for all immigrants and refugees to be housed in 200-300-person containers on the southern border, where they would be required to remain until a decision is made in their case. There are currently 586 such asylum-seekers residing in Hungary, who at present are able to move freely and are not confined to the government’s inadequate camps.
Rules would also change concerning which immigrants could be escorted back to the border: currently, all immigrants intercepted within 8 kilometers of the border must be escorted back. Under the new rules, all immigrants intercepted in any part of the country would be taken to the container camp, Lázár said, adding that organizations conducting charitable work at the border would receive an increase in state support.
Also to receive an increase in funding will be Hungary’s national defense, the minister said. He credited the unspecified increases to the improving economic outlook in Hungary, as well as the expectation of NATO member states that each member spend at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense spending. Hungary spent 0.95 percent of its GDP on defense in 2016.
In order to fill hundreds of thousands of unfilled jobs, the government plans to offer incentives to employers to hire workers currently “employed” in Hungary’s public work program. Hungary’s labor shortage was the worst on record in 2016 with 57 percent of companies reporting difficulties in finding workers. Some 216,000 Hungarians are currently engaged in public work for which they are paid below minimum wage to perform manual labor tasks such as cutting grass and digging ditches. According to Lázár, the government wants to cut that number to 100,000 in the next five years.
Metro 4 Corruption Case
The city of Budapest has 60 days to react to a report compiled by the European Union’s anti-corruption office (OLAF) which alleges that some HUF 273 billion (USD 941 million) was improperly used or stolen during construction of the city’s M4 metro line. If the city does not formally object to the findings of the report within those 60 days, it must repay HUF 59 billion (USD 204 million) to the EU. Lázár said the abuses all occurred in contracts signed between the city and various contractors, and the national government bears no financial responsibility. The city would have to repay the EU but could then sue the contractors for damages, which Lázár said the government has “unusual, creative ideas” about.