The Warmth of Hungary: When Locals Fight Back with Tea and Biscuits
Op-ed by Joyce Man, Humboldt Research Fellow*
Lately, the news coming out from Hungary about asylum seekers has been alarming. So far this year, official figures
show 72,000 have entered the country irregularly. Last year, according to Eurostat,
it received 42,775 asylum applications, up from 18,900 in 2013 and 2,155 in 2012. The Balkan route through Serbia and Hungary has become the third biggest for irregular border crossings in Europe, affecting settlements in the area.
However, it’s not the numbers that are worrying, but the government’s response. The administration under Prime Minister Viktor Orban will soon build a 175-kilometer fence on the border with Serbia. On July 6, parliament passed amendments to the Asylum Act that will make it extremely hard for refugees to seek protection. In June, the government went as far as to announce a halt on the Dublin III Regulation -- a key rule under the common EU asylum system -- though it changed its position a day later. What’s more, it issued a questionnaire to eight million citizens, combined with a billboard campaign, suggesting immigration was a threat.
“It’s pretty clear which side of the fence Orban’s government stands on. ”
Faced with increasing irregular migrants, governments have a choice: incite fear and alarm in the population, or take steps to improve the asylum assessment procedure and reception conditions and smooth the integration of those found to require protection. With a poster campaign
using slogans like “If you come to Hungary, do not take the jobs of Hungarians”, it’s pretty clear which side of the fence Orban’s government stands on.
Many Hungarians, however, seem to be thinking along entirely different lines. On my trip to Budapest and the southern Hungarian city of Szeged on the Serbian border last week, I saw local residents -- students, professionals of all ages, pensioners with grandchildren in tow -- getting into action at train stations and around the city. While the government is going into overdrive, lamenting the weight on the asylum system and rolling back refugee protections, these ordinary citizens are generously preparing tea and sandwiches, setting up Wi-Fi hotspots, phone charging stations and collecting donations of clothes, medical supplies and food for their itinerant guests from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and beyond.
“That is what you, the refugees and any other decent human being would do in the same situation.”
These people have their own lives, but they are spending their time away from their partners and children because, as one 22-year-old woman told me while brewing coffee in a station at Szeged railway station at 3 a.m., “that is what you, the refugees and any other decent human being would do in the same situation.”
Of course, not everyone is rolling out the welcome mat. Mark Kekesi, a coordinator of a group of migrant supporters called MigSzol Szeged
(not directly linked to the Budapest-based Migszol) told me that a day before my arrival people had shouted verbal insults at migrants spending the night at the station. While I was speaking with members of Migration Aid Keleti
at Hegyeshalom Station in Budapest, we observed several passers-by arguing with volunteers about assisting asylum seekers.
“Everyone must constantly remember the choice that’s on the table: going out to the backyard to build a fence, or retreating to the kitchen to boil a pot of tea.”
Yes, the tension is there -- that is what happens when cultures meet that rarely have contact among one another, especially in large numbers. But, as Andras Kovats of the Menedek Association for Migrants
told me, this tension is partly exacerbated by the government.
“That kind of real and present tension is exactly why everyone must constantly remember the choice that’s on the table: going out to the backyard to build a fence, or retreating to the kitchen to boil a pot of tea. It may seem simplistic, but when pressures rise and things get complicated, it’s good to boil it back down to the basics.”
*The views expressed in this editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation
Asylum Information Database – AIDA Report: Launch 10 September 2015
On 10 September 2015, ECRE, together with its partners, will launch the third Annual Report of the Asylum Information Database (AIDA). During the event, at the Residence Palace in Brussels European quarter, the Forum Réfugiés-Cosi, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Greek Council for Refugees and the Swiss Refugee Council will all give their perspectives of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).
With restricted access to the EU territory for people fleeing war and persecution, and asylum seekers ending up destitute or detained in some European countries, the EU remains an elusive ‘safe haven’ for refugees. The report illustrates the persistent contradiction between the theory of a Common European Asylum System, which advocates that people fleeing similar situations are treated alike, and the harsh realities facing asylum seekers in 15 EU Member States of the European Union, being: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Germany, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
The Asylum Information Database (AIDA)
is a project of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), in partnership with Forum Refugiés-Cosi, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and the Irish Refugee Council.
The overall goal of the project is to contribute to the improvement of asylum policies and practices in Europe and the situation of asylum seekers by providing all relevant actors with appropriate tools and information to support their advocacy and litigation efforts, both at the national and European level.
The project aims to achieve the above by providing independent and up-to date information to the media, researchers, advocates, legal practitioners and the public on asylum practices in EU Member States, in particular with regard to asylum procedures, reception conditions and detention.
It also aims to provide advocacy tools to civil society, at the EU and national level with regard to as the transposition of those EU asylum directives adopted as part of the second phase of harmonisation of EU asylum policy and the establishment of a Common European Asylum System.
Finally, the project intends to raise public awareness on the situation of asylum seekers, with a view to nurturing a more receptive political environment on the issue of asylum and migration.
For registration and enquiries, contact Minos Mouzourakis, AIDA Coordinator
| Tel: +32 2 212 08 13
ECRE Information Note on the recast Reception Conditions Directive
The recast Reception Conditions Directive
was adopted on 26 June 2013 by the European Parliament and the Council as part of the recast instruments forming the Common European Asylum System. It lays down standards for the reception of asylum seekers. The Directive binds all EU Member States except Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom. However, its provisions relating to standards on the detention of asylum seekers subject to the Dublin Regulation
apply to all EU countries and associated states applying the Regulation.
This Information Note
provides a detailed examination of the key provisions in the recast Reception Conditions Directive, which involve, among others: a legal framework regulating the detention of asylum seekers, including those subject to transfer procedures under the Dublin Regulation; more protective rules on access to the labour market; and standards on the level and modalities of material reception conditions to be provided by Member States. Throughout this Note, ECRE makes recommendations to Member States for an appropriate interpretation of the provisions of the Directive, in line with international refugee and human rights law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights
and jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Best practices on the implementation of reception standards in Member States are also highlighted as helpful guidance.
Member States bound by the recast Reception Conditions Directive are required to bring their legislation in line with its standards by 20 July 2015.
Registrations open for ELENA Network's 30th Anniversary course
anniversary advanced course on legal avenues for strengthening international protection in Europe
will take place on Friday 30 October and Saturday 31 October 2015 in the Royal Hotel Carlton in Bologna, Italy.
Interested participants should register
by Friday 25 September to secure a place. However, given the limited places available, interested persons are recommended to reserve their place as soon as possible.
ECRE is recruiting a Media and Communications Assistant
ECRE is accepting applications for an 11-month Media & Communications internship
, starting preferably at the beginning of September 2015. The Assistant will support the Media & Communications Team in a wide range of tasks, including write articles for the ECRE Weekly Bulletin
and contribute to maintaining and developing ECRE’s presence in social media.
Supporting the Media & Communications Team will enable the successful candidate to strengthen her/his communications skills, engage on social platforms to ensure that ECRE’s messages are conveyed to its members and the broader public, and gain a comprehensive overview of the main challenges and progresses relating to the protection of refugees in Europe.
To apply for this position, please complete the application form
and return it to Thorfinnur Omarsson
) cc-ing Rita Carvalho
) stating “Application Media and Communications internship” in the subject heading.
The deadline for the receipt of application is 22 July 2015.
MEPs call for a binding and permanent scheme for distribution of asylum seekers across EU Member States
On 16 July, the members of the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE Committee) voted
on the report
presented last week by MEP Ska Keller on the proposal
of the Commission for a voluntary relocation plan. MEPs called for a binding
emergency mechanism to be put in place in order to relocate an initial total 40,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other EU Member States. "A further increase shall be considered, if necessary, to adapt to rapidly changing refugee flows and trends", MEPs said
The LIBE committee rapporteur, Ska Keller, added “we are also calling for a permanent distribution mechanism which must go substantially beyond the current proposals.” MEPs also stressed
that the preferences of asylum seekers, as well as their needs, and specific qualifications are taken into account in order to facilitate their integration and prevent secondary movements.
"It is particularly important that refugees are not sent as pieces of cargo through the EU, but that their preferences are taken into account. This is the only way to support the integration of refugees and prevent them from moving to another member state. Respecting the interests of refugees is essential for the success of the distribution key," rapporteur Keller added.
The legislative resolution was approved by 42 votes to 14.
The Parliament will vote on this report at the next Plenary
on 7 September. The Justice and Home Affairs Council
will discuss the relocation scheme on Monday 20 July.
For further information:
- Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee – LIBE Committee, press release, MEPs want a binding and permanent scheme to distribute asylum seekers in the EU, 16 July 2015
- Emergency relocation mechanism of asylum seekers and refugees within the EU: extract from the vote on the report by Ska KELLER (Greens/EFA,DE) at EP Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, 16 July 2015
- ECRE Weekly Bulletin, EP Report: asylum seekers should be relocated on the basis of family, community and cultural ties, 10 July 2015
Greece: ECRE members respond to asylum crisis on the islands
highlighted, Greece is facing an unprecedented refugee emergency, with 1,000 people arriving on the Greek islands daily over the latest weeks. Deutsche Welle
and other media reported that during the first week of July alone 9,000 refugees and migrants, mostly Syrians, reached the island of Lesvos. UNHCR called on member states to show solidarity and therefore welcomed the commitment expressed by EU Member States to resettle 20,000 refugees to the EU and relocate 40,000 people in need of protection within the EU.
The above mentioned situation, combined with the deteriorating economic situation of the country puts pressure on small island communities, which lack the socioeconomic infrastructure to respond to the growing humanitarian needs.
“The reports about the situation of asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Greece are alarming. ECRE member agencies, the Greek Council for Refugees
, confirm that the situation is rapidly becoming untenable and that there is a need for increasing support on the ground to accommodate and assist the newly arriving. This disturbing situation is happening at a time when the country is going through uncertainty at all levels and the financial and economic crisis in Greece is unprecedented. European civil society must play a constructive role and proactively identify operational solutions to assist the Greek authorities and NGOs. Immediate solidarity is needed to avoid further deterioration of the situation and a rise of xenophobia in a situation in which the Greek population itself is under great suffering,” says Michael Diedring, ECRE’s Secretary General.
German ECRE member Pro Asyl
calls for immediate humanitarian aid in Greece and legal ways for refugees to travel to other European countries. “The situation on the Aegean islands is out of control. The European Union and the rich Member States stand by while a humanitarian crisis is about to turn into a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Karl Kopp, Pro Asyl Director of European Affairs, after a fact-finding mission to Greece.
“Decisive and coordinated crisis interventions in Greece are urgently needed now. All available crisis funds, emergency response and civil protection mechanisms need to be activated swiftly to counter the humanitarian crisis in Greece. In addition to EU funded emergency relief, countries in central and northern part of the EU must quickly permit legal travelling of protection seekers from Greece,” he added.
Another ECRE member, the International Rescue Committee
, is deploying a team to the Greek island of Lesvos to provide refugees there with urgently needed access to water and sanitation. The organisation is also calling on European countries to support refugee relief efforts.
“We are an NGO focused on the victims of conflict in the poorest countries in the world, from Niger to Afghanistan to the Middle East, yet Europe's inability to support Greece means we have to send staff to the richest region in the world,” IRC President David Miliband said. “Europe is setting an example to the rest of the world – of exactly the wrong kind."
With these insanitary and overcrowding conditions of people detained on the Greek islands, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged
Greek and EU authorities to come up with a plan ensuring adequate reception conditions and access to basic healthcare. It also called on Greek authorities to facilitate the processing of families with children, including unaccompanied children, and to avoid detaining children, in compliance with recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In addition, HRW calls on the EU to provide financial assistance to the Greek government to achieve these goals and for EU countries to agree to take generous numbers of asylum seekers from Greece, under the relocation scheme.
and the Greek Council for Refugees
, having expressed their concerns for the well-being of refugees, who have had to walk up to 60 kilometres through the mountains to reach the islands’ main town, welcomed the recent amendment
in Greek legislation. According to the new law, citizens will not be penalised for rescuing people at sea, for transferring people in need of international protection and for transporting people inside the country in order for them to apply for asylum.
REPORTS AND NGO ACTIONS
British Red Cross: legal aid cuts for refugee family reunification is endangering lives
The right to family life is firmly established in international law, and refugee family reunification is recognised in UK law. However, a new report
by ECRE’s member the British Red Cross has found that the withdrawal of legal aid for family reunion applications has kept loved ones apart and left women and children in danger: stranded in warzones and refugee camps.
Refugee family reunion was removed from the scope of free legal advice in 2013 on the basis that it was a “straightforward immigration matter” that did not require specialist legal advice. Using 91 case studies, research from the British Red Cross demonstrates that the government’s assumption is groundless.
The report highlights the significant protection and humanitarian concerns relating to family reunion. The majority of refugees that are able to make the difficult journey to safety are men, who have left women and children (in 95% of the cases) behind in places of ongoing conflict or precarious situations in third countries. The requirement for family members to submit an application in person at a British embassy also presents security and logistical challenges. If, as in Syria and Iran, there is no British post in their country, they may be forced to travel across an international border, at high cost, with nowhere to live, and potentially through dangerous areas.
The British Red Cross identified numerous other challenges faced by refugees in making an application for family reunion. 62% of refugees required English language support in order to understand the complicated application form, and many faced additional difficulties due to suffering from mental health conditions, which was frequently associated with feelings of despair relating to their families’ precarious situations. It considered legal assistance to be fundamental for cases where there is a lack of legal clarity, such as those involving adopted children, stepchildren and siblings.
Professional advice is also vital to identify alternative evidence, as photographs, evidence of communication and identity documents required as part of the family reunion application were rarely available. Alex Fraser, head of refugee support at the British Red Cross, explained that
“for many families, getting hold of these documents is impossible. They may have to flee in the middle of the night, or their home could have been destroyed; while some are from countries that don’t produce these documents in the first place.”
The report calls on the UK government to fund lawyers to give free legal advice to refugees seeking family reunion. The British Red Cross urged the government to link family reunion to asylum policies and international commitments to protect women and children, rather than considering it under immigration policy. Its findings emphasised that family members lives were at risk as they were in analogous situations as refugees, being at risk of abduction, violence and exploitation. It also recommended a simplification of the application form and procedural requirements, with greater flexibility as to documentary requirements and towards cases of ‘atypical’ family members.
For further information:
Libya: appalling detention conditions and political instability force many more people crossing the Mediterranean
A recent report
by the North Africa Mixed Migration Task Force
shows that the appalling detention conditions faced by migrants and refugees in Libya have forced more people to try cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe. Although severe abuses in Libya immigration detention centres have been denounced by numerous human rights groups long before the 2011 conflict, the Task Force stressed that the current political instability in Libya “provides an even more fertile ground for violation and abuse against non-nationals.”
The Task Force highlighted that immigration detention in Libya is far from being applied as a deterrent to access its territory. From the 45 interviews conducted by the Task Forces with African nationals who reached Europe, after having been detained in Libya, a pattern of severe human rights violations has emerged. The report lists arbitrary arrests and detention, no recourse for complaints, recurring beatings, risk of sexual violence for female detainees, deplorable sanitation conditions, inadequate food and lack of medical assistance being the main findings identified from the interviews. Furthermore, unaccompanied children are held in detention in the same cells as male adults.
The Task Force stressed that these practices clearly amount to violations of international human rights law. However, it is hard to determine who should be held accountable for those violations due to the current political fragmentation and lack of clarity about the groups controlling immigration detention centres. The Task Force reiterated that migrants should not be automatically detained, and, on the contrary, immigration detention should be used as a measure of last resort. Until a political solution is found in Libya, the Task Force urged the different governing actors to take some measures in migration detention centres to ‘alleviate the situation’, such as: introducing a maximum detention period and limiting the cases under which detention can be applied; registering detainees in a systematic way; introducing some elements of due process (including access to legal representation, involvement of the judiciary in decision-making); ensuring that detention of vulnerable migrants (such as children, women, refugees) is in line with human rights standards; allowing international organisations and NGOs to provide legal assistance to detainees.
For further information:
ICMC calls for more resettlement and other types of admission places for Syrian refugees
For further information:
On 7 July, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC)
launched the report “10% of refugees from Syria – Europe’s resettlement and other responses in a global perspective
”. Given the protracted conflict in Syria and a decreasing protection climate in countries neighbouring Syria, the report explores current resettlement programmes and legal alternatives available for refugees seeking international protection in Europe.
ICMC President Peter Sutherland, who has authored the foreword of the publication, calls for 10% of the 4 million refugees (400,000 Syrian refugees) in neighbouring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt – to be accepted under resettlement or other legal avenues by 2020. Such other legal avenues include humanitarian admission programmes, extended family reunification programmes, community-based sponsorship, as well as humanitarian and student visas.
“10% is an ambitious global target but not when you look at present needs in the region”, stated Petra Hueck, Head of the ICMC Europe Office at the launch of the report. “However, the global response is small if you consider overall needs”. NGOs in the region report that the situation can only become worse, with the rise of ISIS and an unprecedented underfunding of UN humanitarian aid appeals.
The report compares the different programmes and types of legal avenues that have been developed by European countries to date. ICMC estimates that around 55,000 Syrians have been admitted so far, of whom around one third under resettlement and two thirds under other types of admission, of whom the majority to Germany. With respect to resettlement, most European countries have offered places within existing national resettlement quotas, with Norway and Switzerland offering the largest number of new resettlement places.
The majority of the places have been offered to facilitate extended family reunification, under the banner of humanitarian admission and/or other programmes issuing visas to family members on humanitarian grounds (Austria, Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland). A substantial part of the humanitarian admission programmes is for cases submitted by UNHCR, which take account of vulnerability criteria and protection urgency. The UNHCR HAP cases have used expedited procedures which have ensured that refugees have departed more rapidly, normally within six months. Legal status offered under the humanitarian admission programmes varies from two years in Germany and Ireland, to five year temporary residency (UK), subsidiary protection (France) to full refugee status (Austria, and France). In view of the situation in Syria, the report recommends that refugees with temporary stay must be informed on how to renew their status in due course, and recommends that to avoid unequal treatment of Syrians that have arrived via different avenues, all Syrian refugees are provided with the same entitlements as those that have applied for asylum.
The report notes that Syrians arriving under family reunification programmes have been supported substantially by civil society, churches and diaspora organisations. These initiatives are the first seeds of community based sponsorship programmes, which could be further expanded in parallel to national resettlement quotas or support other admission programmes, such as extended family reunification programmes. However, such future sponsorship programmes should be based on a clear and pre-established framework to divide responsibilities and allocation of resources between government actors, refugees and sponsoring organisations, as is the case in Australia and Canada.
With the support of sponsoring churches, NGOs and local municipalities, reception and integration can sometimes be better facilitated, but sponsorship programmes should not be used to alleviate governments of their responsibilities.
Discussing the upcoming relocation and resettlement proposals under the Agenda for Migration, Petra Hueck stressed at the launch of the report that “reception and integration measures need to go hand in hand with developing new programmes in new countries. This can only be ensured in partnership with civil society and municipalities and needs to be an integrated part of a package”.
“We welcome the Commission’s proposal to provide for 20,000 resettlement places” stated Petra Hueck “however we must ensure that these are really new places and that we are not “recycling’’ already existing commitments into a new EU funded pledge”.
Aleksandar Romanovic, from the European Commission DG Home Affairs remarked at the launch of the report that, it is not sure that the member states will agree that the 20,000 places will indeed be new resettlement places. With respect to other legal admission channels, he noted that Member States are still very hesitant to cooperate on ways to increase such channels which is still very much seen as an area of exclusive national competence.