By Stephanie Nebehay
The United Nations on Friday labeled an anti-immigration law proposed in Hungary an “assault on human rights” and urged its government to uphold the right of freedom of association.
The nationalist government in Budapest on Tuesday submitted legislation to parliament that would empower the interior minister to ban non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that support migration and pose a “national security risk”.
The bill is part of an anti-immigration drive by Prime Minister Viktor Orban that has set its sights on a campaign by Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist George Soros to bolster liberal and open-border values in eastern Europe.
It appeared to mark a further tightening of controls on groups “working on issues the government regards as against state interests, such as migration and asylum”, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said.
It represented “an unjustified restriction on the right to freedom of association and is a worrying continuation of the government’s assault on human rights and civic space,” he told a Geneva news briefing.
The government says the bill, which would also impose a 25 percent tax on foreign donations to NGOs that back migration in Hungary, is meant to deter illegal immigration Orban says is eroding European stability and has been stoked in part by Soros, who has dual Hungarian and U.S. citizenship.
“Such a tax is likely to result in reduced budgets and disrupt fundraising, thereby undermining NGOs’ ability to carry out their activities and services,” Colville said.
Published on Reuters on February 15, 2018
Asylum seekers must not be subjected to psychological tests to determine whether they are homosexual, EU's top court has ruled.
Tests to determine sexual orientation are controversial, but are sometimes used when assessing asylum claims.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling is binding in all 28 EU states.
The ECJ case relates to a Nigerian man who submitted an asylum application in Hungary in April 2015. He feared persecution in Nigeria for being gay.
Hundreds of homosexuals fearing persecution in Africa, the Middle East and Chechnya have sought asylum in the EU, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights reports.
The Nigerian's claim was rejected after a psychologist's report failed to confirm his homosexuality.
A court in Szeged, Hungary, must now reconsider his case in light of the ECJ ruling.
What about similar gay rights cases?In December 2014 the ECJ ruled on a similar case in the Netherlands and found that sexuality tests violated asylum seekers' human rights.
In the new ruling, the ECJ said "certain forms of expert reports may prove useful" in such cases, but added that such reports interfered with a person's privacy. Authorities must also determine the reliability of a claimant's statements, the judges said.
In 2013 the ECJ ruled that asylum could be granted in cases where people were actually jailed for homosexuality in their home country.
Homosexual acts are illegal in most African countries, including key Western allies such as Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya and Botswana.
What happens next in this case?The Hungarian court cannot appeal against the ECJ ruling, so the Nigerian man - identified only as "F" - now has a stronger claim for asylum.
The ruling means that EU countries now have no legal right to impose psychological tests to determine an asylum seeker's sexuality.
What did Hungary originally decide?The ECJ says Hungarian officials had not found F's statements to be fundamentally contradictory, but had still concluded that F lacked credibility.
Their decision was based on a psychologist's report, which included:
Psychologists have long held that personality traits can be revealed by tests such as "draw a person in the rain" and the Rorschach test, which relies on an individual's interpretation of inkblots.
What sort of tests were at issue here? They were quite general psychological tests, aimed at identifying F's personality type and emotional characteristics.
F said the tests had violated his fundamental rights and they had not provided any assessment of "the plausibility of his sexual orientation", the ECJ said.
It also said any indication of sexual orientation provided by such tests could only be "approximate in nature". They were "of only limited interest for the purpose of assessing the statements of an applicant for international protection".
In 2010 the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency condemned the Czech authorities for using "phallometric" sexual arousal tests on some asylum seekers to determine whether they were gay. Czech officials said the tests had been used in fewer than 10 cases, with the individuals' consent.
The Hungarian court handling F's case quoted him as saying that he had not undergone any physical examination and had not been required to view pornographic photographs or videos.
Is Hungary a special case?No - other EU countries also conduct psychological tests on asylum seekers, to assess whether their statements can be believed.
The UK Home Office has detailed guidance on asylum claims based on sexual orientation.
The gay rights group ILGA-Europe says there is a huge diversity in the EU in the way asylum authorities assess someone's sexual orientation.
In F's case tests were imposed on him - unlike the Dutch asylum case of 2014, when several Africans offered evidence of their homosexuality.
In the Dutch case, the ECJ ruled that it was wrong to conduct "detailed questioning as to the sexual practices of an applicant for asylum".
F's asylum claim in 2015 came during a migrant crisis for Hungary. The country faced a huge influx of migrants - many of them Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans fleeing war. Most of them moved to Germany, via Austria, and Hungary then built a formidable border fence to keep migrants out.
Published on BBC on January 25, 2018
By Jennifer Rankin
The European Union’s top court has dismissed complaints by Slovakia and Hungary about EU migration policy, dealing a blow to the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and his allies in central Europe over the bitterly contested policy of refugee quotas.
In an important victory for the EU, judges threw out a challenge against its mandatory relocation scheme, which aims to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers around the bloc.
The victory has sharpened tensions between the EU and Hungary’s combative PM, who has made opposition to EU asylum policy a core theme of his “Stop Brussels” campaign. It will also raise tensions with Poland, which lent its support to the failed legal campaign.
Budapest condemned the court ruling as “appalling and irresponsible”. The foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, said: “This decision jeopardises the security and future of all of Europe. Politics has raped European law and values.”
The European court of justice (ECJ) said it had dismissed “in their entirety the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary”, vindicating the EU decision-making process that created a scheme to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other member states.
The number was later amended when 54,000 “unused places” were allocated to resettle Syrian refugees in Turkey in Europe. Based on the original 120,000 figure, fewer than a quarter of places have been filled. With the relocation scheme due to expire later this month, the stage is set for bruising arguments over permanent refugee quotas.
EU leaders agreed the emergency plan in September 2015, at the height of the migration crisis, as thousands of people arrived daily on Europe’s shores, many of whom were refugees from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea.
Along with Hungary and Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic also voted against the scheme. Poland belatedly threw its weight behind the legal case after the conservative Law and Justice party came to power in late 2015.
European leaders turned to an untested provision of the EU treaty to force through the decision in an attempt to get to grips with unprecedented numbers of people arriving in the EU.
ECJ judges said the European council had acted lawfully. EU institutions were on firm legal ground when they adopted measures to respond to “an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of displaced persons”, the court said. The ECJ also concluded that the legality of the decision was not affected by retrospective conclusions about the policy’s effectiveness.
In a robust defence of the EU treaties, the court said: “The small number of relocations so far carried out under the contested decision can be explained by a series of factors … including, in particular, the lack of cooperation on the part of certain member states.”
Data released on Wednesday shows that 27,695 refugees have been relocated under the scheme, roughly two-thirds from Greece and a third from Italy. Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, said there was “misunderstanding” about the numbers and fewer people than anticipated were eligible for help.
He said 2,800 people in Greece were awaiting relocation and another 2,000 were expected to become eligible. According to official data, in Italy 7,200 eligible asylum seekers have arrived since the start of the year but only 4,000 have been registered, as authorities struggle to cope with arrivals.
Hungary and Poland have not relocated a single person and the Czech Republic has not made any offers for more than a year. All three countries risk being taken to court by the commission. Avramopoulos said the commission was ready to consider that last step. “The door is still open and we should convince all member states to fulfil their commitments, but we should be clear that member states have to show solidarity now.”
The court decision came as the EU executive curtly dismissed Orbán’s request for EU funds to help build a border fence. In a letter from the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, Orbán is chastised for attempting to pick and choose EU policies. “Solidarity is not an à-la-carte dish,” states the letter, first obtained by Politico.
Juncker lists the financial support Hungary has received to manage migrant flows, and the €4m Budapest lost out on by refusing to take part in the refugee relocation scheme. “Solidarity is a two-way street. There are times in which member states may expect to receive support, and times in which they, in turn, should stand ready to contribute,” he writes.
The ECJ ruling was greeted with relief in Brussels. Manfred Weber, the head of the European parliament’s largest centre-right group, tweeted: "#ECJ confirms our view on the migration scheme. We expect all EU countries to respect and implement the ruling. @EPPGroup 1/3"
There was a predictable reaction from anti-EU parties. The former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: “What a surprise – EU court undermines national sovereignty once again. It should be a decision of nation states who it allows inside its borders.”
The EU has taken in more than 1.7 million people from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. However, after a mass influx in 2015, the number of arrivals has fallen steadily after actions last year that all but closed the route from Turkey to Greece and from Greece to the Balkans and northern Europe. The EU has also increased support for Libya to curb arrivals in Italy.
The ruling has no impact on the UK, which has an opt-out from this area of EU law.
Published on The Guardian on September 6, 2017.
BY JEANNE CARSTENSEN
At an abandoned grocery store on a strip of dirt next to the Hungary-Serbia border fence, Bashar and Marua Surchi huddle with their children around the fire.
The Surchis have spent seven months in Serbia after fleeing violence in their hometown of Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan. Bashar, an English teacher, and Marua, a veterinarian, traveled from Iraq to Turkey to Bulgaria with their two young girls. They wanted to reach Germany, but after arriving in Serbia they found their path blocked.
Like all of the 8,000 registered refugees in Serbia, they are waiting for their family’s name to be chosen from a list. Hungary allows only five asylum seekers a day to enter each border gate, 10 total.
For now, they live in this abandoned grocery store in an open camp next to the border. But starting Tuesday, all asylum seekers — including the Surchis — will be detained in closed camps.
From where Bashar is standing, he can see one of the camps, just on the other side of the fence. It’s a dense warren of shipping containers laced with huge coils of barbed wire.
He says the detention facility looks more like a prison than a refugee camp.
“What did I do? I’m not a terrorist!” he says. ”I’m human.”
The new policy is part of a larger effort by hardline anti-immigration Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. His government has been struggling to deal with the thousands of people from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa trying to get into Europe over the past two years.
According to the Hungarian government, 324 shipping container homes have been installed at two separate locations, called "transit zones," built into a fence that Hungary erected along the 110-mile-long border in 2015.
EU member Hungary previously systematically detained all asylum applicants but suspended the practice in 2013 under pressure from EU officials, the UN refugee agency and the European Court of Human Rights.
Rights groups like Amnesty International have condemned the new rules for failing to meet Hungary's international obligations to asylum-seekers.
The UNHCR also said that systematic detention will "have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered."
Safet Resulbegovic manages a Serbian refugee camp run by the Serbian government. He’s concerned the refugees in the new Hungarian detention centers will turn to smugglers and human traffickers to escape. He’s also concerned the conditions will breed violence.
“When you run from war, and you are going to a part of world where they promised you human rights and a normal life ... and you come there and you see that that doesn’t exist ... I’m scared that those people will be more disappointed and maybe they will become violent to the others.”
So far, the European Commission has been reluctant to pressure Hungary to repeal the policies that many advocates are calling a violation of international law.
On Tuesday, EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos praised Hungary’s actions and participation in border safety for the European Union. He vaguely raised some concerns at a press conference, saying the EU will continue “to work together with experts to ensure EU rules are complied with.”
But short of that, the EU and the European Commission have signalled little willingness to intervene.
And that leaves refugees like Bashar Marua with no place to turn.
“How [will] we live there? How will we sleep there?” Marua says, as her daughter begins to wimper. "[What if] the baby gets sick? What do we do?”
Published on Pulitzer Center's website on March 31, 2017.
By Patrick Wintour
Human rights groups have heavily criticised a vote by the Hungarian parliament to force all asylum seekers into detention camps as the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, called migration “a Trojan horse for terrorism”.
The asylum seekers will be kept in converted shipping containers while they wait for their cases to be heard via video-link as part of measures Orbán said were designed to save Europe. He considers the migrants, many of whom are Muslims, as a threat to European Christian identity and culture.
The measure was fiercely opposed by civil liberties groups in the country and some socialist MPs but was nevertheless passed overwhelmingly by 138 votes to six with 22 abstentions. Support came from Orbán’s Fidesz party and the far-right Jobbik.
Amnesty International, one of a consortium of seven civil rights groups to protest against the new regulations, said the proposals would breach EU law and the refugee convention. “Dumping all refugees and migrants into containers isn’t a refugee policy it’s avoiding one,” the group said in a statement, denouncing the Hungarian moves as a “flagrant violation of international law.”
Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty’s deputy director for Europe, said: “Rounding up all men, women and children seeking asylum and detaining them months on end in container camps is a new low in Hungary’s race to the bottom on asylum seekers and refugees.”
Amnesty called on the European Union to take action against Hungary’s “illegal and deeply inhumane measures.”
The United Nations refugee agency said the new law “violates Hungary’s obligations under international and EU laws, and will have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered.”
Asylum seekers in Hungary, which hundreds of thousands entered in 2015 in the hope of reaching western Europe, can at present be held for up to four weeks if they are apprehended within five miles of the border, but the new rules remove the time limit and will apply countrywide. Unaccompanied minors below the age of 14 will be put in the care of the country’s child protection services.
The Hungarian government stressed that any detained asylum seekers would be free to leave at any point, as long as they drop their claim and return to either Serbia or Croatia, the two countries through which refugees have mainly been arriving.
The law, due to come into force in a week, will also require asylum seekers to have their fingerprints and photographs taken, or be thrown out of the country for non-cooperation. It also makes it easier to declare a state of emergency designed to ensure that no one can enter Hungary and the EU without permission.
A statement from the seven civil rights groups, which includes the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and MigSzol, the Migrant Solidarity Group of Hungary, said extension of the current state of emergency due to migration to September “only serves to maintain the xenophobic, fear-mongering propaganda.” It said there were “hardly 400” asylum seekers in the country at present.
A total of 391,000 people arrived in Hungary illegally across the green border in 2015, the Hungarian government claims, of whom 177,000 submitted requests for asylum but only 5,000 waited until their asylum proceedings were completed.
Hungary accepted 502 asylum seekers in 2015 and 425 in 2016. Germany took in 890,000 asylum seekers in 2015 and 280,000 in 2016.
There have also been claims, rejected by the government, in the Swedish press that the Hungarian border guards have been attacking asylum seekers. Media access to the camps is restricted.
Orbán said at an oath-taking ceremony for border guards, called “border-hunters” by the government, on Tuesday that the arrival of asylum seekers might have ebbed since 2015 but it had not come to an end.
He said Hungary had to act on its own since the migration crisis would last until its causes are removed and the EU could not be relied upon to do so.
“We are still under attack,” Orbán insisted. “The pressure on Hungary’s borders will not cease in the next few years because millions more people are preparing to set off in the hope of a better life. The storm has not blown itself out.”
He added: “Migration is the Trojan wooden horse of terrorism. The people that come to us don’t want to live according to our culture and customs but according to their own at European standards of living.”
The refugees are expected to be kept at two or three camps on Hungary’s southern border.
In addition, Hungary is pressing ahead with a second electrified fence along the Serbian-Hungarian border due to be completed by 1 May. The new barrier, stretching for nearly 100 miles (150km), will enable the border to be monitored using CCTV and thermal cameras, and other technological equipment.
A government spokesman said: “Thanks to the new technology, a low voltage, and completely safe current will also be flowing through the fence, which will send an alarm to border control authorities if any attempts are made to damage the fence.
“The goal to be realised by the fence is exactly what the Austrians want too, that nobody is able to cross the border who will need to be sent back later because they are in the EU illegally.”
This article was published on The Guardian's website on March 7, 2017.