Politics

UN Refugee Chief Pays Visit To Hungary, Urges Easing Of Hungarian Asylum Policies

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi paid a visit to Hungary, calling on the country’s government to improve access for people seeking asylum and to do away with its so-called border “transit zones,” which he said are in effect detention centres. The protection of refugees is not incompatible with guaranteeing security, he insisted.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi (photo: Attila Kovács – MTI)

In Budapest, Filippo Grandi met Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó and Interior Minister Sándor Pintér and stressed that the UN Refugee Agency recognizes the right of every country to protect its borders. But, he said, “refugee protection and security of the country can be accomplished at the same time.” He also emphasized the importance of European solidarity and of all member states, including Hungary, taking part in the EU program to relocate asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy.

The high commissioner expressed his concerns about a law prohibiting asylum seekers from leaving the transit zones set up on the border until their cases are ruled on and the fact that few asylum seekers are granted refugee status. “Children, in particular, should not be confined in detention,” Grandi said after touring the Röszke transit zone on Hungary’s border with Serbia. He noted that children younger than 14 who arrive in Hungary alone are transferred to an open centre where they are getting good care and encouraged Hungary to maintain such a facility while expanding it to include older unaccompanied children.

Seeking asylum is not a crime. The refugees I met are simply in search of safety in Europe and now are extremely anxious about their future.

Filippo Grandi appealed to the Hungarian government to ease constraints on its asylum system so that asylum-seekers entering the country face no obstacles and can have their cases heard in line with Hungary’s international commitments. “When I was standing at the border fence today, I felt the entire system is designed to keep people, many of whom are fleeing war and persecution, out of the country and preventing many from making a legitimate asylum claim,” Grandi said. It is understandable that Hungary is in a difficult position, the high commissioner said, arguing that Hungary was a “transit country” between the western Balkans and western Europe. However, Hungary’s asylum regulations send a message of rejection, he added.

During his visit, Filipp Grandi also visited UNHCR’s Global Service Centre in Budapest where some 500 staff members work. These include about 300 Hungarian nationals who provide essential support to UNHCR staff members protecting refugees around the world. He expressed his gratitude to the Hungary for its support to the Centre and to the staff who are devoting their professional skills to serve refugees. Grandi said his office had requested a meeting with the Hungarian Prime Minister which however could not be scheduled due to the prime minister’s other commitments.

via hungarymatters.hu and unhcr.org; photo: Attila Kovács – MTI