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Hungary Approves Detention Of All Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers wait to board a bus near the Hungarian-Serbian border last year. (file photo)
Asylum seekers wait to board a bus near the Hungarian-Serbian border last year. (file photo)

Hungary's parliament has overwhelmingly approved the automatic detention of all asylum seekers in container camps at the borders, despite criticism from rights groups.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on March 7 that the legislation, passed 138-6 with 22 abstentions, is in response to recent terror attacks in Europe.

It reinstates Hungary's practice of detaining asylum applicants, which it suspended in 2013 under pressure from Brussels, the UN refugee agency, and the European Court of Human Rights.

According to the new measure, all asylum seekers entering Hungary, and those already in the country, will be detained or moved to the container camps.

While in camps, they will not be allowed to move around Hungary or leave the country during the processing of their applications, unless they are crossing the border back into Serbia.

The new border camps will comprise converted shipping containers built onto existing "transit zones" erected in 2015 at the southern border with Serbia, government officials say.

Orban, speaking at a swearing-in ceremony for a new group of border guards known locally as "border hunters," said Hungary is "under siege."

Hungary could only count on itself for protection, he said.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, voiced deep concern after the adoption of the measure.

"This new law violates Hungary’s obligations under international and EU laws, and will have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered," UNHCR said in a statement issued in Geneva.

"Under international and EU laws, the detention of refugees and asylum seekers can only be justified on a limited number of grounds, and only where it is necessary, reasonable and proportionate," the statement added.

'Disregarding EU Principles'

Rights group Amnesty International said last month that the new rules "disregard EU guiding principles that it is forbidden to detain someone on the basis that they have claimed asylum."

"Elderly, sick people as well as families with children may also be detained [in the containers]," the rights group said.

The new measure is the latest in a series of a tough anti-immigration steps by Orban -- who has called immigration "poison."

Hungary built militarized razor wire fences on its borders with Serbia and Croatia in 2015, and handed thousands of migrants expulsion orders for "illegal border-crossing" and even jailed some.

It has also gradually been closing down its network of refugee camps, while allowing only a trickle of asylum seekers into the existing transit zones.

According to the government, 1,004 people have applied for asylum in Hungary so far this year.

The Interior Ministry on March 6 defended police against accusations of brutality against migrants, made in a newspaper article by medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and in an article in Britain's Independent website.

The Independent quoted migrants as saying that Hungarian border guards are "taking selfies with beaten migrants."

The Interior Ministry "repeatedly and categorically rejects the unverified allegations," said a ministry statement.

Written by Eugen Tomiuc with reporting by AFP, dpa, and The Independent