In response to anti-homeless laws adopted in 2013, The City Is For All (A Város Mindenkié), a Hungarian NGO advocating for the rights of homeless people, called for a world-wide demonstration of solidarity. Local organizations across three continents answered the call by staging protests in support of Hungary’s persecuted homeless.“The criminalization of homelessness is part of a comprehensive authoritarian and punitive turn in Hungary that unfolded after the 2010 elections” says an NGO spokesperson.
Government efforts to criminalize homelessness have been criticized by Hungary’s emasculated supreme court and by human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch criticized the criminal law for requiring no criminal intent and for targeting the poorest and most marginalized members of society.
In 2013 the Fidesz-KDNP parliament passed a law banning the homeless from sleeping rough in “world heritage sites”, which includes Margit Island, City Park and Budapest’s 1st and 5th districts. In September parliament passed legislation making it possible for local governments to designate public areas where the homeless may not temporarily reside. Offenders can be fined. Those unable to pay the fines can be sent to jail.
On November 14 the Budapest City Council adopted a law banning homeless people from sleeping rough in playgrounds, underpasses, overpassess, subway stations, and bus stations. Prior to that protesters occupied city council chambers and had to be removed by the police.
Later that month Hungary’s second largest city, Debrecen, adopted its own anti-homeless law.
Interior Minister Sandor Pinter claimed last year that Budapest shelters can accommodate up to 20,000 during the winter season. However, according to Menhely Alapitvany, a Hungarian NGO actively working with Hungary’s homeless, Budapest shelters have approximately 5,500 beds – hardly enough meet the needs of Budapest’s homeless population which has significantly risen since the global economic crisis of 2008.
The current government’s despicable treatment of society’s weakest members is perhaps best personified by Budapest 8th District Mayor Mate Kocsis (Fidesz). The district is known for its high level of poverty and legions of homeless. Kocsis was named the government’s leading “expert” on homelessness after the district made it an offense to scavenge in garbage containers.
In mid-January The City Is For All announced a worldwide call to action regarding the troubling developments in Hungary. The call for international solidarity was answered last week in the form of demonstration around the world against the alarming growth of intolerance towards Hungary’s most vulnerable. Demonstrations took place in Bangkok, Vienna, Essen, Lisbon, Berlin, Brussels, Dublin (another link), Istanbul (another link), Cluj, New York, Paris, Prague, and London to denounce the Hungarian government’s criminalization of homelessness. Coverage and photographs of the protests can be found here, here, and here.
According to the Hungarian Social Forum (Magyar Szocialis Forum, MSZF) 28 Hungarians died from exposure the first two weeks of February, including three men who were sleeping rough.
Fourteen of the victims died in their own homes as some 12 per cent of Hungarian households cannot afford heat.
The City Is For All has announced it is organizing a protest in Budapest for Saturday, February 22.
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