The United Nations in a rare step has called on the European Union (EU) member states to temporarily suspend sending Middle Eastern and African refugees and asylum seekers, including children, to Hungary for assessment due to the dire conditions awaiting them in the central European country.
The Hungarian parliament, known as the National Assembly, approved a highly controversial law last month, according to which authorities are allowed to systematically detain all new asylum seekers, including children, in shipping containers, surrounded by high razor fences, for the entire length of their asylum procedures in border areas.
The new law, which came into effect on March 28, was adopted by legislators from hardline anti-refugee Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party and the far-right Jobbik party.
“The situation for asylum-seekers in Hungary, which was already of deep concern to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), has only gotten worse since the new law introducing mandatory detention for asylum-seekers came into effect,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in a statement on Monday.
According to the EU’s so-called Dublin regime, based on the Dublin Convention inked in the Irish capital in 1990, member states are allowed to send back refugees to the first safe country they reached on their journey to the bloc, and should be returned there if necessary. The regime, which is also applied to non-members Switzerland and Norway, aims to prevent filing asylum applications in multiple countries.
“I urge states to suspend any Dublin transfer of asylum-seekers to this country until the Hungarian authorities bring their practices and policies in line with European and international law,” Grandi added.
According to the statement, as of April 7, there were 110 people, including four unattended children and children with families, held in containers.
The UN official also expressed his deep concern over “disturbing” reports of serious cases of ill-treatment and violence, even by state agents, against desperate people crossing the border into Hungary. “These unacceptable practices must be brought to an end and I urge the Hungarian authorities to further investigate any allegation of abuse and violence,” Grandi added.
The Hungarian premier, a strong admirer of US President Donald Trump, has already deployed thousands of “border hunters” along the country’s southern borders to block refugees from entering the country. Orban, who has long taken a hard line on immigration, had previously referred to refugees as “poison” and a “Trojan horse for terrorism.”
Budapest had previously adopted and practiced systematic detention of all asylum applicants but suspended the controversial measure in 2013 under pressure from the EU, the UNHCR and the European Court of Human Rights.
Hungary started the construction of its second massive barrier on its southern borders with Serbia on February 27, after it built its first four-meter-high wall of razor-wire fence in 2015. It has also handed thousands of refugees expulsion orders for “illegal border-crossing” and even jailed some.
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Europe has been facing an unprecedented influx of refugees, most of whom are fleeing conflict zones in North Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria. Many blame major European powers for the exodus, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and conflicts in the Middle East.