We Asked: Refugees in Hungary

Interview with Annastiina Kallius. She is a Sociology and Social Anthropology graduate from CEU and she has worked in the migration field in Hungary, researched the field, and also been a migszol activist for the past three years.


What specific challenges has the position of your country on the refugee corridor between the Mediterranean and Western Europe brought in the past months, in relation to numbers of refugees transiting (issues such as asylum laws, transport, border control)?

For those people who are familiar with the context and history of migration and asylum in Hungary, the situation from the summer did not come as a surprise. Asylum laws have been steadily tightened ever since the numbers started to increasing in 2013, but it must be said that the 2015 law represents a significant leap towards criminalization as crossing the border fence was declared a criminal offense punishable by serving time in Hungarian prisons.

The biggest challenge of the summer was definitely the confusion and arbitrary application of the law, most notably the Dublin regulation and its circumstantial application. After Germany suspended Dublin for Syrians, it was unclear whether they should still be fingerprinted in Hungary. It also lead to a situation where there was an system of 1st class and 2nd class refugees, creating many tensions between the Afghan, Syrian, Iraqi and Pakistani communities.

Transportation, housing and the concrete management of the humanitarian situation was only a challenge because of political will. Only last winter Orbán declared that Hungary would be ready to take in 170,000 Ukrainian refugees should the need arise. For Middle Easterners, the political will was not there. At the moment the true challenge is how to protest against the fence on the border, as touching the fence is, as said, a criminal offense. The other, related, challenge is how to transform the humanitarian impetus into political demands to open the Hungarian border again.

How have the state and the police responded to the refugee crisis? How has your country been involved in the FRONTEX and EU border regime prior to the crisis and what has changed since?

After the asylum system of Greece was declared dysfunctional, Hungary became the main entry route to the EU and most notably to the Schengen zone some years ago. The international community was slow to react to this, and until summer 2015, the popular migration map simply ended in Greece, as if migrants would actually stay there.

The numbers of migrants crossing through, and applying for asylum in Hungary has increased exponentially over the last few years. Hungary has received help, and equipment, from Frontex, and the patrolling on the border has been a peculiar mix of Frontex-equipment and trained border guards, and semi-official civic guards. I recommend a documentary from a few years ago, Superior Orders, for anyone interested in seing how it worked.

Now, of course there is a fence, which puts Hungary in a particularly strange situation in Europe: on one hand, Hungary-bashing is (for very good reasons) more popular than ever in the Western press (for reasons exceeding the migration crisis), but on the other hand, nobody in the whole of Europe has voiced a specific critique of the fence. Indeed, it suits Germany and other powerful EU member states quite well, and I am pretty sure that behind the scenes they are happy about Orban’s migration policies.

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