Hungary tightens migrant controls ahead of referendum

Human rights groups deplore police push-back powers and squalid border conditions

Human rights groups have lambasted Hungary's latest move to deter asylum seekers from entering the country as the government of prime minister Viktor Orban finalised plans for an October referendum on the European Union's beleaguered refugee policy.

Hungary built fences on its borders with Serbia and Croatia last autumn to divert migrants and refugees travelling north through the Balkans, but several thousand each month continue to breach the fence or enter legally via "transit zones"; most then quickly travel on through the country to Austria, Germany and beyond.

The Hungarian parliament, which is controlled by Mr Orban’s allies, has now given police the power to detain illegal migrants found within 8km of the country’s southern border and to return them to Serbia without any legal process.

Mr Orban says the measures are part of Hungary’s bid to restore order to EU migration and border systems that were thrown into chaos by the refugee crisis, and particularly by Germany’s “open-doors” approach last summer.


Security fence

People caught within 8km of the frontier will be “escorted back to the border security fence and... shown through the gate to the nearest transit zone, where they can submit their request for asylum”, said Mr Orban’s security adviser

Gyorgy Bakondi


However rights groups say the push-backs breach Hungary’s international commitments to refugee protection, as do “transit zones” which exist in a legal limbo and are increasingly squalid for people stuck in them.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said the new measures could lead to police “not respecting the human rights of migrants and breaching international law by forcibly expelling them without any form of legal procedure”.

“With hundreds of people already waiting in the strip of land between the Serbian passport control and the Hungarian barbed-wire fence we also fear that this measure will only worsen the existing desperate and inhuman conditions at the border.”

Marta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, lamented "a new stage in the politically-motivated dismantling of the Hungarian asylum system", which showed that "the government's expensive and inhuman deterrence strategy [had] failed".


A referendum called by Mr Orban on German-led plans to distribute refugees around the EU has been set for October 2nd.

"The Hungarian government asks Hungarian citizens to say no to mandatory resettlement and...the immigration policy of Brussels, " said Mr Orban's chief-of-staff Antal Rogan.

“Only Hungarians can decide with whom we want to live in Hungary.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe