Asylum in Hungary: Crisis averted but challenges emerging
Wednesday 18, May 2005
BUDAPEST, May 18 (UNHCR) – When Hungary joined the European Union in May last year, it expected a surge of people seeking asylum. While that fear has not materialised – the number of asylum claims has plunged instead – other challenges have emerged for refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
Some 400 people have applied for asylum in Hungary so far this year, a low number compared to other new EU states like Slovakia and Poland. At its peak in 1999, 11,500 asylum applications were filed in Hungary – mostly from the former Yugoslavia – but that number has been declining steadily since 2002, falling by 86 percent to 1,600 applications in 2004, the lowest in recent years.
Hungary is located in the heart of Europe, at the crossroads of migration routes connecting north, south, east and west. But in recent years, it seems that people have stopped using it as a transit country to the more developed west.
“The routes used by smugglers have been pushed up north of Hungary, as our capacity of monitoring the external EU borders has been significantly strengthened,” says László Balázs, Head of the Aliens Policing Department of the Hungarian Border Guards Headquarters. “In recent years, we’ve received €63 million worth of new vehicles, infra-red cameras and computers from the EU, and our staff participated in a number of trainings. As a result, we are capable of efficiently combating illegal migration into Hungary.”
While the impact of tightening border controls remains debatable, this approach has made it more difficult to maintain the balance between curbing illegal immigration and providing protection and assistance to all refugees in Hungary. Despite the fall in asylum claims in Hungary, new challenges have emerged for asylum seekers, refugees and aid agencies responsible for protecting them. These problems require much more sophisticated and complex solutions than the simple provision of shelter and relief aid that were crucial in large-scale refugee emergencies like the Balkans conflict.
Part of the problem is due to the changing asylum patterns over the years. When the number of asylum seekers was high, many of them left Hungary before their refugee status was determined. Since then, the average duration of stay in the country’s state-run refugee reception centres has increased from 60 days in the late 1990s to more than 220 days today. The authorities must thus consider long-term solutions instead of the short-term care and maintenance of previous years. Moreover, asylum seekers who are granted refugee status are increasingly staying and integrating in Hungary rather than moving elsewhere.
As a result, the need for education, employment, language training, housing and health care for refugees has increased significantly. If refugees do not have access to education and employment, the risk of them becoming further victimized by human smugglers and traffickers rises dramatically. Staying in the country despite the difficulties is a real challenge for most of them.
“It’s very difficult to be a refugee in Hungary,” said Yahya Al-Jubery*, 24, a recognized refugee from Palestine. “If it wasn’t for my three-year-old son who I don’t want to run around with, I would have left the country for a place where I have better chances of establishing myself.”
He explains, “I’ve been here for more than a year now and I still haven’t found a job. Employers are not willing to take me as I don’t speak Hungarian. But as an upholsterer, I don’t need the language to do my job. I’m supporting myself through odd jobs and physical labour, but it’s not easy being a single parent with a small child.”
Refugees who move out from the reception centres to private apartments receive some 12,000 Hungarian Forints (US$60) from the Office for Immigration and Nationality (OIN, the government office responsible for refugee matters) in living costs and 6,000 Forints from the state as child allowance. However, the minimum cost of living per person can be as much as 80,000 Forints per month, so refugees desperately need to work to survive. They are not eligible for unemployment grants, which requires at least one year of continuous legal employment in the country. It is a vicious circle, and the only way out may be through informal networks, personal contacts and individual resourcefulness.
Abu Sule*, a 34-year-old refugee from Sierra Leone, survives through small trading, odd jobs and the occasional cash support from friends abroad. Asked why he is staying in Hungary despite the difficulties, he says, “I have been here for seven years. I have no family back in my country and I have had enough of running away. I plan to stay in Hungary as I feel safe here, even if my dream of living a normal life is still very, very far away.”
Life is not much easier in the refugee reception centres. OIN has been forced to reduce the number of social workers, even though the number of recognized refugees staying longer and requiring more daily support for their integration has increased three-fold.
OIN is overstretched and underfunded. “Despite the funding constraints, OIN now has to face the enormous challenge of setting up a general national integration strategy which would recognize and aim to solve the many disadvantages that refugees and persons benefiting from subsidiary protection face in Hungary,” says Dr. Agnes Garamvölgyi, OIN’s Director of Refugee Affairs.
One positive development is that various EU sources are helping to fill gaps in the funding of asylum and integration projects. The EU is now financing a 15-month twinning programme on refugee integration, allocating €750,000 to projects in Greece and Hungary. The European Refugee Fund (ERF) has also distributed a total of €825,000 for 20 projects in care and maintenance, integration and voluntary repatriation.
However, there are two major shortfalls. Organizations applying for ERF funds have to provide 25 percent in matching contributions, which most of them cannot afford. Most of the projects are funded for a short period of between six and 10 months; even the most successful projects are not guaranteed continuation.
As a result of these changing operational realities in Hungary, UNHCR has adjusted its strategy and activities. “When UNHCR first began its work here, we were dealing with major refugee influxes from Romania and then later from the former Yugoslavia. We had large budgets and many implementing partners,” says Lloyd Dakin, UNHCR Regional Representative based in Hungary. “When these situations stabilized, we shifted our attention to developing and building the capacity of the Hungarian asylum system.”
He adds, “Now, with the national asylum system largely in place and functioning better every year, UNHCR is turning its attention more and more to the need for refugee integration, which requires new types of cooperation with governmental and non-governmental partners as well as the EU and other international organizations.”
According to Dakin, the greatest challenge ahead for UNHCR and its partners is to ensure effective practical solutions and assistance to refugees in Europe amid overheated political debates on immigration and refugees. The genuine needs of refugees, he says, should not be allowed to fall victim to the unfounded negative public opinion or the very system that is designed to assist them. Refugees in Europe not only need, but deserve real, practical solutions to their plight. In the absence of such solutions, they will be endangered by social marginalization, deprivation, and their presence in the countries hosting them will not be seen as an asset, but as a burden.
*Names have been changed to protect refugees’ identities.
Andrea Szobolits in Budapest, Hungary
Page 3 of 23
Statement in Advance of V4 Summit11 Feb 2016
Thursday 11, February 2016 Budapest, 11 February 2016 (UNHCR) – The UN Refugee Agency is urging leaders in Central Europe to show greater solidarity with desperate refugees who seek sanctuary in the continent as war, conflict and extremism force millions out of their homes. UNHCR’s call comes ahead of the […]
UNHCR alarmed at the plight of refugees and migrants at Bulgaria borders28 Jan 2016
Thursday 28, January 2016 Sofia, 28 January 2016 – The UN Refugee Agency is extremely alarmed at reports of two dead bodies being found on the Bulgarian border with Serbia, last week. UNHCR is seeking further details after being alerted about the deaths by the Bulgarian Border Police. The two men, […]
Hungary urged to refrain from policies and practices that promote intolerance and hatred21 Dec 2015
Monday 21, December 2015 UNHCR, Geneva, 21 December 2015 – the UN Refugee Agency, the Council of Europe and ODHIR – the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights have urged Hungary to refrain from policies and practices that promote intolerance, fear and fuel xenophobia against refugees and migrants. The Organizations have joined voices to […]
Latest updates on Europe’s refugee crisis13 Nov 2015
Friday 13, November 2015
A childhood regained on Kos13 Nov 2015
Friday 13, November 2015 KOS, Greece, Nov 11, (UNHCR) – Although he is only 14 years old, Samir’s face shows a maturity and a seriousness well beyond his age. He has experienced far too much for a child. “I have seen many scary things,” the Afghan orphan told the UN refugee agency […]
Thousands continue to flee wars and cross borders in search for a new life in safety27 Sep 2015
Sunday 27, September 2015 TOVARNIK, Croatia, Sept 25 (UNHCR) – They continue to come in their thousands, Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis and others, in an ever-shifting pattern across the Serbia-Croatia border, most fleeing conflict and persecution hoping their onward journey will deliver them to a place where they can pick up the pieces […]
Thousands of refugees fleeing war cross into Croatia triggering sad memories of own recent past23 Sep 2015
Wednesday 23, September 2015 OPATOVAC, Croatia, Sept 22 (UNHCR) – In their thousands they streamed across a disused, now re-opened Croatian border post at Bapcek: Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis fleeing war in the Middle East into a country where the memories of its own conflict in the early-90s are still raw and vivid. […]
Time running out to resolve refugee emergency in Europe21 Sep 2015
Monday 21, September 2015 GENEVA, Sept 18 (UNHCR) – Following yesterday’s mayhem on the Serbian border with Croatia, which has closed some entry points, the UN refugee agency today issued a stark warning that time was running out for Europe to resolve the current refugee crisis. UNHCR blamed the continuing absence of […]
UNHCR urges Europe to change course on refugee crisis17 Sep 2015
Thursday 17, September 2015 UNHCR reiterates its deep conviction that only a united European emergency response can address the present refugee and migration crisis. Individual measures by individual countries will not solve the problem but will make an already chaotic situation worse, further the suffering of people and increase tension […]
At Serbian border, flow of refugees continued unabated into Hungary9 Sep 2015
Wednesday 9, September 2015 RÖSZKE, HUNGARY, Sept 7 (UNHCR) – Train tracks connect the two countries, and a razor wire fence separates them. But the razor wire opens for the tracks, and groups –sometimes even crowds – of refugees simply walk through. The refugees come with stories of hardships along the way. “We expected something […]