Hungary

Country Profiles Hungary

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Executive summary

The Republic of Hungary, a parliamentary republic, is a member of the European Union, NATO, OSCE and the Visegrád Group (V4), and has been a member of the Schengen Agreement since 2004. It has an area of 93,030 km2 and has a continental climate. Its population of 9.9 million is declining at a rate of -0.3%.

Before the second half of 2015, Hungary was basically a country of emigration. The situation has changed with the inflows from Serbia. More than 100,000 foreigners work regularly in Hungary. According to data from the Central Statistics Office of Hungary, Hungarian emigration increased from 7,310 registered emigrants in 2010 to 21,580 in 2013 and then to 29,425 in 2016. The last massive wave of emigration from Hungary began in 2009. A recent survey found that 34% of recent graduates and 55% of people aged 18-40 years are planning to emigrate. The number of people wishing to leave the country, according to the Office’s own estimate, is 370,000. The main destination countries for Hungarian emigration since WWII have been United States of America (1,400,000), Israel (200,000), United Kingdom (150,000), Germany (120,000), Canada (100,000), Brazil (75,000), Australia (67,000) and Argentina (40,000).

The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is constantly decreasing: in 2013, there were 1,254 IDPs, but only 293 the following year. It is estimated that there were only 96 IDPs in Hungary from January-July 2017. Internal displacement has been due to environmental disaster (an accident in 2010) and for economic or family reasons.

According to government data, 391,000 migrants entered Hungary in 2015, of whom 177,000 applied for asylum, but only 5,000 remained in the country until the application procedure was completed. In 2016, the number of applications fell to 29,432. In 2017, very few asylum seekers were allowed to enter Hungary to make their applications, and sometimes they needed to wait several months in refugee camps at the border with Serbia before doing so. In total, 508 people, i.e. about 10% of applicants, were granted humanitarian protection in 2016. From January-September 2017, 805 asylum seekers were granted international protection (75 received refugee status and 730 subsidiary protection), while 2,617 applications were rejected. The rate of approval of applications is the lowest in Europe.

Basic information

The Republic of Hungary, a parliamentary republic, is a member of the European Union, NATO, OSCE and the Visegrád Group (V4), and has been a member of the Schengen Agreement since 2004. It has an area of 93,030 km2 with a continental climate. Its population of 9.9 million is declining at a rate of -0.3%. Its GDP is USD 27,008 per capita. The population density is 109 inhabitants per km2. According to the latest census the main ethnic groups are: Magyars 93.2%, Gypsies 1.9%, Germans 0.6%, Slovaks 0.2%, Croats 0.1%, Romanians 0.1%, others (Ruthenians, Serbs, Slovenes, Ukrainians and others) 3.8%. The main religious affiliation is Christians at 74.4%, made up of Catholics 54.5%, Protestants 19.5% (Calvinists 15.9%, Lutherans 3%, other Protestants 0.6%), Orthodox 0.2%, and other Christians 0.2%; in addition, there are Jews 0.1%, non-religious 14.5%, others and undeclared 11.1%.

International and internal migration

Before the second half of 2015, Hungary was primarily a country of emigration. The situation changed with inflows coming from Serbia. More than 100,000 foreigners regularly work in Hungary. With some exceptions, such as working in the public service, immigrants with a permanent residence permit can seek employment on equal terms with Hungarian citizens. There is no precise data on foreign workers with permanent residence permits, but considering their age and overall employment rate, it is estimated that there are about 40,000.

There are several ways to obtain Hungarian citizenship, and dual nationality is allowed. Naturalisation can be granted to persons residing permanently on Hungarian territory for not less than eight years. But there are two ‘preferential’ or ‘facilitated’ processes that are quicker. The fastest, requiring three consecutive years of residence, is available to persons in the following categories: married to a Hungarian citizen (even when the marriage has terminated due to the death of the spouse); parents of an underage Hungarian citizen when that child reaches the age of maturity; persons adopted by a Hungarian citizen; refugees (status must be obtained from the Hungarian authorities); stateless persons. Obtaining citizenship after five years of consecutive residence is foreseen for those who were born on Hungarian territory; or those who established residence in Hungary before reaching the age of maturity. In the case of minors, the time requirements may be reduced if their application for naturalisation is submitted together with their parent’s application or if the parent has already acquired citizenship. The application for naturalisation of a child adopted by a Hungarian citizen may be submitted by the adoptive parent irrespective of the child’s place of residence.

As regards immigration flows, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO) of Hungary, 29,815 new immigrants (both born abroad and in Hungary) were registered in 2016. Almost 130,000 new immigrants were registered over the 2010-2016 period.

Emigration and qualified migration

CSO data shows that Hungarian emigration rose from 7,310 registered migrants in 2010 to 21,580 in 2013 and then to 29,425 in 2016. The last significant wave of emigration from Hungary began in 2009. Departures began due to the economic crisis and the increase in mortgages with the devaluation of the forint versus the Swiss franc. Although there are no definitive figures, it is estimated that between 2009 and 2013 roughly 300,000 and 400,000 Hungarians emigrated. Young people between 20-40 years of age left, and 80% of those who emigrated were skilled workers.

According to recent CSO research, 34% of recent graduates and 55% of people aged 18-40 years are planning to emigrate. The Office estimates that 370,000 people wish to leave the country. Limited possibilities for personal fulfilment and professional development are the main motives that fuel the desire of young people to leave.

The Hungarian Diaspora Council, of which Hungarian emigrants from all over the world are members, was established in 2011 and meets every year in Budapest. This body connects and cooperates with Hungarian organizations (churches, civil society organizations, cultural institutions and associations and scout groups) all over the world. It also aims to represent the diaspora in public forums in Hungary.

Forced Migration (Internally Displaced, Asylum Seekers and Refugees)

The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has been constantly decreasing: in 2013, there were 1,254 IDPs, and only 293 the following year. According to estimates by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, there were only 96 IDPs in Hungary from January-July 2017. The largest recent movement of IDPs occurred due to the 2010 environmental disaster (the accident at the aluminium factory in Ajka). Others have moved for economic or family reasons.

According to government data, 391,000 migrants entered Hungary in 2015, of whom 177,000 applied for asylum. However, only 5,000 remained in the country until the asylum application procedure was completed. In 2016, the number of applications fell to 29,432. In 2017, very few asylum seekers were allowed to enter Hungary to make their applications, and sometimes it was necessary to wait for several months at refugee camps on the border with Serbia before doing so. Until mid-2017, Hungary admitted 30 per day, but then the limit was lowered to 50 per week.

Following the introduction of an accelerated procedure in 2016, the Immigration and Asylum Office (of the Ministry of the Interior) examined 54,586 asylum applications. Final decisions (mostly refusals) were taken on 10% of the cases; the other 90% closed because the applicants did not show up for the interview. In 2016, a total of 508 persons, i.e. about 10% of applicants, were granted humanitarian protection. From January-September 2017, 805 asylum seekers were granted international protection: 75 were granted refugee status and 730 were granted subsidiary protection, while 2,617 applications were rejected. The approval rate of applications is the lowest in Europe.

Again between January-September 2017, 128 asylum seekers were returned to Hungary by Austria and Germany on the basis of the Dublin Regulation. From January-June 2017, 140 migrants were deported from Hungary to Serbia. In 2016, 612 people were deported by Hungarian authorities. The five main nationalities of those deported were Ukrainian, Serbian, Kosovar, Albanian and Turkish. Criminal liability for illegal border crossings was introduced on 15 September 2015. Some 2,792 people were convicted for this new “crime” between September 2015- July 2016.

The two main points of entry for asylum seekers crossing the Balkan route are Tompa and Röszke, both located on the border with Serbia. Two checkpoints (Letenye and Beremend) were closed in August 2015. The Helsinki Committee publicly denounced the unsatisfactory conditions in the detention camps where 96% of asylum seekers are forced to live. Asylum seekers arriving after 7 March 2017 have risked being held in detention centres. On that date, the Hungarian Parliament passed a law according to which all migrants, including unaccompanied minors, need to live in detention centres until the outcome of their asylum application. For those who wish to leave, the only way out is returning to Serbia or Croatia. The UNHCR denounced the new Hungarian law as a violation of international law.

The main media outlets treat the migration issue in diverse ways. The majority of pro-government newspapers are in favour of policies of hostility and resistance towards migrants from the Middle East. Some broadcasters promote the idea that Hungary should not be a destination country for foreigners from the Middle East, and this causes a huge political and social split on the issue of their reception and reinsertion. On the other hand, media outlets sponsored by George Soros view recent migration to Hungary as a new opportunity for economic development.

Victims of Human Trafficking

The 2017 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report states that Hungary is a source, transit hub and, to a lesser extent, a destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. Vulnerable groups include Hungarians in extreme poverty, young people and adults with limited education, Roma, asylum seekers and unaccompanied and homeless minors. Civil society organisations have reported a new phenomenon of selling disabled victims for sex trafficking. Hungarians, in particular Roma women and girls and those from state-run care institutions, are widely exploited in Austria by Hungarians of Roma origin (as well as non-Roma). A large number of Hungarian victims of human trafficking exploited at home or abroad come from state-run childcare institutions and prisons. These people often fall into the hands of traffickers as soon as they leave these institutions.

The US report notes that investigations, prosecutions and court convictions of traffickers in Hungary have decreased significantly compared to previous years, despite the amendment of the Penal Code allowing for the seizure of assets held by traffickers; training of prosecutors and judicial staff; cooperation with foreign police forces on joint trafficking investigations; and increased funding for public awareness and anti-trafficking efforts.

The same report denounces the limited services available for victims of trafficking; there is also a lack of coordination between the actors assisting victims. Furthermore, the Hungarian government has failed to implement the EU directive requiring children under the age of 18 involved in prostitution to be considered victims of trafficking regardless of procedural consent. In addition, there is a strong downward trend in law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking and the data provided by law enforcement agencies themselves are unreliable, thus making an objective assessment of their efforts in the fight against trafficking difficult. The Hungarian police generally fail to identify certain trafficking cases involving children or remain reluctant to investigate them.

National legal framework

The Hungarian legal framework for the regulation of migration has developed gradually over recent decades. In the late 1980s, it became clear that a new administrative and legislative system was needed to deal with migration. This led to the adoption of a number of legislative measures. Thus, in 1989 a migration law was enacted which abolished all administrative obstacles to the right of Hungarians to enter and leave their country freely. In 1993-1994, two Acts regulating migration came into force: the Act on Hungarian Citizenship and the Act on the Entry, Residence and Immigration of Foreigners into Hungary. The first one states that eight years of residence in Hungary are a necessary prerequisite for naturalisation. The second, known more as the Law on Foreigners, requires an individual to spend at least three years working and living in Hungary to obtain immigrant status. In 1991, strict rules were implemented to regulate the employment of foreigners.

In 1997, the Border and Border Guard Act broadly addressed the issue of illegal border crossings and gave border guards more powers and resources. The Asylum Act entered into force in March 1998. The regulatory changes were linked to the events of 1989, when Hungary acceded to the 1951 Geneva Convention. Previous legislation had limited application to events in the European geographical area only.

The Asylum Act abolished the geographical limitation and established three categories of humanitarian protection. In addition to the traditional category of refugees, the law allowed the entry and stay of asylum seekers and temporarily protected persons. The latter category have the narrowest range of rights within current national immigration policies.
A new legislative package entered into force in 2002, mainly aimed at harmonising Hungarian regulations with those of the European Union. A minimum of three years of legal employment in Hungary with a residence permit is now required to obtain a permanent residence card. Eight years of residence is a necessary prerequisite for naturalisation.
With the Second Act on the Admission and Right of Residence of Third-Country Nationals of 2007 and the corresponding Government Decree (114/2007 – V. 24), Hungary complies fully with the migration legislation of the European Union and the Schengen Convention. There are, however, exceptions to the rule and the groups receiving preference. Naturalisation and the acquisition of a permanent residence permit are easier for ethnic Hungarians. In addition, former Hungarian citizens can obtain their nationality on request, without a waiting period.

A number of legislative changes enacted in 2015 have seriously restricted access to humanitarian protection. Since 1 August 2015, Serbia has been designated as a safe third country for asylum seekers, resulting in the almost automatic rejection of more than 99% of asylum applications. Asylum procedures have been accelerated significantly. The judicial review of a case concerning the asylum application has been rendered ineffectual with extremely short deadlines for lodging an appeal. Transit zones have been introduced, where immigration and asylum cases are dealt with. Since 15 September 2015, an asylum application procedure at the border – a specific type of admissibility procedure – has been introduced, which can only be launched if the applicant lodges his or her application for asylum in a transit zone. The unreasonably short deadline for the admissibility procedure has been further shortened: the asylum authority has to issue a decision within a maximum of eight calendar days. Together with the decision to refuse humanitarian protection, the asylum authority hands over the notice of deportation to the rejected asylum seeker and orders a ban on entry for 1 or 2 years. Furthermore, criminal sanctions for illegal border crossing have been introduced.

From 5 July 2016-March 2017, the Hungarian police were obliged to automatically reject asylum seekers arrested within 8 km (5 miles) of the Serbian-Hungarian or Croatian-Hungarian border, regardless of any protection needs or vulnerability criteria, denying these people any possibility of making an asylum application.

On 28 March 2017, the “state of crisis for mass immigration” was extended until 7 September 2017 and then extended for a further six months. According to this state of crisis, the police were authorised to reject migrants who wished to apply for asylum in Hungary through the border fence in any part of the country, without any legal procedure or possibility of appeal. Asylum applications could only be made in border transit zones. Asylum seekers were detained in the transit zones for the entire asylum procedure without any legal basis for detention or judicial remedy. The detention centres in the transit zones became the only places where asylum applications could be submitted. All persons, including the most vulnerable and unaccompanied minors above the age of 14 years who were seeking asylum were held there. The time limit for seeking judicial review of decisions on inadmissibility and rejection of asylum applications was reduced from eight to three days. Hungary has signed and ratified the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Additional Protocol, the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and the 2000 Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. No International Convention on the rights of migrant workers has been signed.

Main actors

The State

In Hungary, the Ministry responsible for migration policies is the Ministry of the Interior, which works in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of National Economy and the Ministry of Human Resources on matters of common competence. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for the Immigration and Asylum Office and the Police.

International Organizations

UNHCR and IOM assist the Hungarian state in the management of migration and asylum issues. The UNHCR participates in border monitoring as part of a tripartite agreement concluded in December 2006 with the Hungarian border police and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. UNHCR Hungary regularly monitors reception conditions for asylum seekers, such as housing, through annual field assessments as part of the Age, Gender and Diversity (AGD) strategy. As a result of the AGD process, carried out in cooperation with NGOs and Hungarian authorities, some recent changes have been made to the country’s legislative and institutional framework and to the protection and assistance services offered to refugees and asylum seekers.

In the field of the protection of stateless persons, UNHCR Hungary recommended the removal of a legal requirement that only persons legally resident in the country can access the statelessness determination procedure. The agency’s public information activities, disseminated through the media and the internet, aim at raising awareness of asylum seekers and educating the public on the importance of helping refugees to integrate into society. Campaigns to combat xenophobia seem to be on the increase as well.

The Hungarian office of the International Organization for Migration provides potential beneficiaries with information on the benefits of assisted voluntary return (AVR) through various channels (hotline, website, films, brochures and personal visits) and organises the entire journey of people interested in AVR: they obtain travel documentation, tickets for the trip, accompaniment to departure and during transit, and assistance on arrival.

The Catholic Church

Some of Hungary’s bishops are particularly attentive to the issue of immigration.

Caritas is extremely active. During the migration flows of the past three years, Caritas volunteers have provided accompaniment and assistance, especially when people were arriving. The diocesan Caritas of Budapest, Szentgotthárd, Szombathely, Fót and Zákány in particular regularly collect and provide food, water, clothes, blankets, cleaning items, linen, towels, etc. for the refugee camps. They also provide medical care and education for those who wish to settle in Hungary; organise language courses (Hungarian and English); and give legal assistance and support to asylum seekers.

Caritas has developed a programme to give complementary help to asylum seekers and the neediest refugees by remaining in constant contact with reception camps and collection points. Special attention is given to families, the elderly and the sick, unaccompanied minors, as well as victims of trafficking and religious persecution. Together with the “István Károlyi” Reception Centre in Fót, Caritas has implemented a project for the construction of wooden houses for families with minor children.

Among the Catholic organisations involved in providing assistance and services for migrants and refugees, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has been particularly successful. Some of the main activities of the JRS Hungary office for people on the move are its comprehensive (social, psychological, legal) assistance to refugees wishing to settle in Hungary, accommodation services, youth accompaniment, education, volunteer training, reflection and awareness-raising.

Other organisations

The Lutheran Church has spoken strongly on behalf of refugees. At the level of civil society, organisations such as the Helsinki Hungary Committee, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders are very active. They operate mainly on the border with Serbia. Also very active are MENDEK and other NGOs (AISEC, MigHelp, Migszol, Migration Aid).