In the 1990s after the change of the system Hungary joined the 1951 refugee convention. As an effect of the Yugoslavian war and Romania’s Ceausescu regime approximately 100 000 refugees arrived to the country. The cultural scene became more diverse when Hungary opened its borders for all refugees coming from non-European countries in 1997 (mainly from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq). Hungary represents a gateway for refugees and asylum seekers to come to Europe from Eastern and Southern parts of the world.
Until 2013 3500−5000 asylum-seekers arrived to Hungary a year, mainly from the former Yugoslavia, Africa , Middle-East and 5−10 % of them got refugee status.
Because of the EU requirements Hungary’s policy concerning refugees has become stricter since 2010. Hungary means the Schengen border, therefore neighbouring countries try to defend themselves from illegal migration by putting extra pressure on Hungary. In case someone does not have papers when crossing the border as an asylum-seeker he/she is sent to a detention camp (which is operated as a police lock-up). Until 2013 asylum-seekers could spend even one year there until the decision arrived. Although the regulation had been changed in 2014 and the state is pressed to make a decision about the status of an asylum-seeker in 2 months, the decision is not made during this time and a huge amount of people must leave the detention camp and stay on the street as homeless till they wait for their status.
There are three refugee camps in Hungary and five detention camps. Most of them are close to the Serbian, Romanian and Ukrainian borders, which shows that the majority of the asylum-seekers enter through these borders. The Budapest detention camp is operated at the Budapest Airport.
In 2008 and 2009, 3000 people requested refugee status and 10% got it. Most of the asylum-seekers came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Iraq these years. In case they got the status they could stay at the camp for half a year receiving accommodation and language lessons and three-month rental fee for a flat. In 2009 the Office of Immigration and Nationality announced that Hungary as a host country cannot manage quick growth of asylum-seekers. In 2012 there were 2. 157 registered asylum-seekers, and in 2013 18 900 asylum-seekers arrived. The majority of them came from Kosovo, Pakistan and Afghanistan because of political reasons.
With shrinking financial resources allocated to the asylum-system, more and more basic services have been deleted without proper quality control, which is underlined by the 2010 UNHCR (United Nations Commissioner for Refugees) report:
- reception conditions of asylum-seekers does not help integration
- asylum-seekers need to stay in police lock-ups designed for short term stays (up to 72 hours)
- this could potentially lead to mental health problems
- asylum-seekers reported several incidents: verbal, psychological and even physical harassment including beatings and racist comments occurred in police detention
People are kept in isolation during the asylum procedures (no contact with the host society). They have limited access to language learning, they are restricted in movement, as asylum-seekers are not able to pay for the local transportation, have restricted opportunities to work. They receive insufficient medical services, no translation is provided to help communication with medical stuff, which reduces the effectiveness of the provided medical care. They do not receive sufficient information about the asylum procedures . While they are transported to the court or for other reason (visit bank or post office) asylum-seekers are handcuffed.
Solidarity and the help of and also communication with refugees and asylum-seekers is very poor in Hungary. In 2007 and 2011 TÁRKI (Social Research Center) reported:
- only 10% of the Hungarian population agrees the fact that the country should accept all immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers,
- 90% of the society is xenophobic, has strong fear of the strangers e.g. for taking their jobs.
UNHCR urges Hungary to improve treatment of asylum-seekers as they reported the following problems:
- xenofobia, racism and intolerance and against the harsch conditions of detention
- access to services is almost impossible because of the financial and physical state of asylum-seekers
- the quality of legal representation provided is very poor
- lack of communication
- verbal and physical abuse by guards
- integration is almost impossible because of the attitude of the society (after getting the refugee status one needs legal rental papers of an apartment and employment papers).