GENEVA (17 September 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Thursday said he was appalled at the recent actions and attitudes displayed by the Hungarian Government and authorities in relation to refugees and migrants, and also urged European institutions to resolve their impasse and take firm action to respond to the crisis in Hungary and elsewhere.
“The images of women and young children being assaulted with tear gas and water cannons at Hungary’s border with Serbia were truly shocking,” Zeid said. “I am appalled at the callous, and in some cases illegal, actions of the Hungarian authorities in recent days, which include denying entry to, arresting, summarily rejecting and returning refugees, using disproportionate force on migrants and refugees, as well as reportedly assaulting journalists and seizing video documentation. Some of these actions amount to clear violations of international law.* ”
The Hungarian Government has just finished building a fence on its border to Serbia and closed the border crossings, while a new law criminalizing irregular entry into Hungary came into effect on Tuesday. Hungary has reportedly already begun returning refugees to Serbia, following very summary proceedings. The Government is also talking of building more fences along its other borders with Romania and Croatia.
On Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán defended the measures by saying that they concerned “defending European lifestyles,” contrasting this with Islam. High Commissioner Zeid deplored the xenophobic and anti-Muslim views that appear to lie at the heart of current Hungarian Government policy, and which were reflected in a blatantly xenophobic Government poster campaign earlier in the year.
“The package of measures brought in overnight between Monday to Tuesday is incompatible with the human rights commitments binding on Hungary,” the High Commissioner said. “This is an entirely unacceptable infringement of the human rights of refugees and migrants. Seeking asylum is not a crime, and neither is entering a country irregularly.”
“Many have made harrowing sea journeys to avoid other border fences,” Zeid added.
“They have put themselves at the mercy of smugglers because they had no other option to escape from war and misery. Other avenues for entry – including resettlement programs as well as regular migration channels – were simply not there. I am extremely concerned at the repeated failures of the European Union to agree firm and principled action to respond to the crisis in Hungary and elsewhere. Current events highlight the urgent need for bolder and more human-rights driven migration and asylum policies in Europe.”
*Relevant international treaties include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the 1951 Refugee Convention and the Convention Against Torture.