UNHCR calls on Hungary to protect, not persecute, refugees

08 May 2015, BUDAPEST (UNHCR) - The UN Refugee Agency on Friday spoke out against a growing expression of xenophobia in Hungary. It raised concerns over efforts by the Hungarian government to paint refugees as a threat to the country in leading questions being asked during a so-called national consultation.

"We are deeply concerned by the way the government increasingly vilifies people who have fled from war zones like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and who desperately need safety and protection in Hungary," said Montserrat Feixas Vihé, UNHCR Regional Representative for Central Europe based in Budapest.

While UNHCR respects the right of every country to consult its citizens in any way it chooses, the refugee agency is concerned about the wording of a questionnaire that is being sent to eight million Hungarians over the age of 18 in a process announced in late April. UNHCR believes the questions intentionally attempt to confuse refugees and asylum-seekers with so-called "economic migrants" and wrongly blame refugees for a number of purported threats to Hungary and Europe.

For example, question nine of the national consultation suggests that Hungary should be allowed to return people to their countries immediately if they entered Hungary irregularly. It is very important to remember that among the people who enter Hungary - in whatever manner -- are refugees whose lives are in danger in their own countries. These people left their country the same way 200,000 people left Hungary in 1956.

"We call on Hungary, as a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to respect the international laws it voluntarily pledged to honour," Ms. Feixas Vihé stated. "Hungary simply cannot return refugees to countries where they would face threats to their lives."

"Refugees seldom have time to get passports or visas when their lives are in danger, or when they are facing persecution," Ms Feixas Vihé added. "This in no way invalidates their asylum claims and should never stand in the way of their access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure."

This year some 13,000 asylum-seekers have arrived in Hungary from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, three countries plagued by war and instability.

"We need to remember that around the world the primary threat is not from refugees, but to them," Ms Feixas Vihé said.

For further information, please, contact:

  • Erno Simon, Senior Communication Associate +36 30 657 0323; simoner@unhcr.org