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How will the EU react to Hungary’s new “inhumane” immigration policy?

By Apoorva Mandhani

“Too much mixing causes problems”, Hungary’s controversial Prime Minister Viktor Orban was quoted saying during a recent speech. Opposing immigration has been a key part of Orban’s populist platform. The Hungarian Parliament recently approved a legislation permitting authorities to detain all asylum seekers, including women and children fleeing war and poverty, in camps built from shipping containers along the border with Serbia. The new motion was approved by the Hungarian Parliament by an overwhelming vote of 138-6, with 22 abstentions. The measures will be applicable to children travelling with parents as well as all adult migrants, regardless of gender and vulnerability. The legislation, however, does carve out an exception for unaccompanied minors below the age of 14.

Unsurprisingly, the move was hailed by Orban, an early supporter of US President Donald Trump. In his view, migration is a “poison” for Hungary, with the migrants themselves being “A Trojan horse of terrorism” putting his country “under siege”. The move has, however, been condemned by several organisations worldwide. The Orban-type ethnic nationalists and advocates of inclusive nationalism are currently at loggerheads due to these recent developments. It is this face-off between them which will provide a decisive frontier in the battle for reinforcing the belief that tolerant societies can still prevail in Europe.

Building the European ‘fortress’

It has been claimed that the Hungarian Prime Minister is simply carrying out the EU migration policy, which has long aimed to turn Europe into a fortress against “outsiders”. The policy, as approved by the Hungarian Parliament, is capable of being justified under the EU guidelines on asylum accepted in 2013, albeit through broader interpretation. The provision bars detention of refugees, for the “sole reason” of them being applicants for visas. Though this provision is in line with the ECHR jurisprudence, it has been noticed that the amendments provide fewer details concerning the time limits for detention. Further, the recent set of recommendations launched by the European Commission for member States bolsters the belief that refugees are no longer welcome. The Commission document urges member states to detain migrants more quickly and for longer periods of time. 

This claim is further accentuated by the fact that other EU States also allow detention and imprisonment of asylum seekers. They also allow restrictions on their movement during the application process, or after an application has been rejected. For instance, while Poland favours a more restrictive application of the asylum procedure guidelines, restrictions on the movement of asylum seekers have long been applied in Germany. Erecting barriers and creating deterrents has, therefore, been discretely viewed as EU’s political goal for a while. Hungary’s brazen stance only advances this argument further.

Calling out Europe’s bad boys

Human rights groups have heavily criticised this policy for being “illegal and inhumane”. They argue that this policy is a part of Hungary’s continued crackdown on refugees and migrants. UNHCR spokesperson Cecile Pouilly slammed the move, opining that it would “have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered.” Furthermore, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has claimed that the Hungarian border police are systematically abusing migrants through beatings, using tear gas, dogs, and confiscating shoes in cold weather.

Ms Gauri Van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe, was of the view that the measure is a “flagrant violation of international and European law” and is “just the latest in Hungary’s aggressive crackdown on refugees and migrants”. Ms Gulik has urged the EU to “step up and show Hungary that such illegal and deeply inhumane measures have consequences”. EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has been sent to Budapest to have a “serious discussion” with the Government.

While organisations stand up against the bad boys of Europe, it is the ‘fortress Europe’ itself that needs to pay immediate attention to its policies. For now, it seems to be struggling to manage a complex socio-economic phenomenon while attempting to find quick fixes.


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