Hungary to introduce automatic detention for asylum-seekers

January 12, 2017

Refugees seeking asylum in Hungary may now be facing automatic detention for the full length of the asylum process, in violation of European law.

János Lázár, who heads the prime minister’s office, announced today that the Hungarian government will no longer allow refugees to move around the country while their cases are under review. At the moment, Hungary maintains several open camps, where refugees waiting for a decision on their cases are allowed to leave for other purposes.

“Automatic detention for the full length of the asylum procedure is absolutely not in accordance with EU law or the Strasbourg case law,” explained Márta Pardavi, Co-Chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. While the wording of Lázár’s announcement was unclear regarding which specific legal procedures the government is changing, his comments highlighted that refugees will no longer have freedom of movement.

The EU’s recast reception conditions directive states that “the detention of applicants should be applied in accordance with the underlying principle that a person should not be held in detention for the sole reason that he or she is seeking international protection.”

Moreover, the directive emphasizes that “with regard to administrative procedures relating to the grounds for detention, the notion of ‘due diligence’ at least requires that Member States take concrete and meaningful steps to ensure that the time needed to verify the grounds for detention is as short as possible, and that there is a real prospect that such verification can be carried out successfully in the shortest possible time. Detention shall not exceed the time reasonably needed to complete the relevant procedures.”

Residing in open camps currently allows refugees to take walks outside, attend church services and travel to events hosted by Hungarian civil society organizations such as MigSzol and Artemisszió.

Lázár’s announcement may be part of an ongoing government effort to limit contact between refugees and Hungarian society.

In December, the Bicske refugee camp near Budapest was closed down. Refugees residing there had access to events, mentors, workshops and language classes offered by Hungarian civil society groups in Budapest. After being moved to remote camps — Kiskunhalas in southern Hungary and Körmend near the Austrian border — refugees from the Bicske camp have far less contact with Hungarians and Hungarian NGOs.

The nature of open camps has allowed individuals to step in when the Hungarian government has failed to provide acceptable living conditions for refugees. In Körmend, the parish priest invited refugees sleeping in cold camps in the middle of winter to stay in a community building.

Lázár’s comments were ambiguous and it remains unclear how the government will implement its new policy, but it appears that daily life for refugees in Hungary may be worsening even further.