UN: Hungary's migrant block dubious

  • 13/05/2016
Viktor Orban (Getty)
Viktor Orban (Getty)

Hungary's actions to keep out migrants, including fast-track trials to punish those who breach its border fence, may conflict with international refugee and human rights conventions, the United Nations says.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has taken an increasingly anti-foreigner stance since migrants began pouring into Europe last year, building a heavily guarded border fence and rejecting an EU quota system to share out migrants among member states.

Despite strong criticism from EU headquarters in Brussels and some major EU members including Germany, the right-wing Orban's approach has gone down well in Hungary, a country with few immigrants and little experience of multiculturalism.

A new report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said legislation recently passed in Budapest had limited and deterred access to Hungary for those seeking refuge from war and persecution.

"UNHCR considers these significant aspects of Hungarian law and practice raise serious concerns regarding compatibility with international and European law, and may be at variance with the country's international and European obligations," it said on Thursday.

By "obligations", the UNHCR was referring to protection for people fleeing the threat of war or persecution in their home countries, and prompt processing of asylum applications.

The UN refugee agency criticised Hungary's fence and a procedure whereby migrants arriving at the frontier must submit their asylum requests in so-called "transit zones".

"The asylum procedure and reception conditions are not in accordance with European Union and international standards, in particular concerning procedural safeguards, judicial review and freedom of movement," the report said.

Hungary also introduced legislation in September 2015 that allows courts to order the expulsion of migrants for illegally breaching the border fence.

The UNHCR said prison sentences had been "imposed following fast-tracked trials of questionable fairness, and [the sentences] are not suspended in the event that the concerned individual submits an asylum application".