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Pope Francis Should Stress Equal Treatment of Refugees During Hungary Visit

Discriminatory, Abusive Practices Against Different Migrant Groups In Spotlight

Police patrol the Hungarian-Serbian border barrier near Kelebia, Hungary, December 15, 2022.  © 2022 Marton Monus/Reuters

Pope Francis’ visit to Hungary from April 28-30 is an opportunity to call out the Hungarian government’s discriminatory practices towards refugees and migrants. The Pope has been vocal on migrants’ rights throughout his leadership, repeatedly calling on states to welcome people seeking protection from war and persecution.

During his last visit to Hungary in September 2021, Pope Francis urged the government to “extend its arms to everyone.” However, authorities have continued to be hostile to those seeking safety. The Pope should call out Hungary’s abusive practices towards refugees and urge respect for those fleeing persecution.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has left no stone unturned in making Hungary a hostile place for people seeking safety. The government has effectively dismantled the asylum system and engages in unlawful, sometimes violent pushbacks at Hungary’s border with Serbia. Those who do reach Hungary face a barrage of government-funded anti-migrant propaganda.

In 2020, Hungary abolished the right to seek asylum on its territory. In 2022, just 44 persons managed to apply for asylum by lodging their claim at the Hungarian embassy across the border in Serbia. The Asylum Authority granted 10 people refugee status and 14 subsidiary protection. Ignoring rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in 2022 and by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2020, Hungarian authorities conducted 158,000 unlawful pushbacks last year, doubling to the number from 2021. Hungary’s pushback practices violate international prohibitions of ill-treatment, collective expulsions, and return to risk of harm (refoulement).

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Hungary allowed millions of Ukrainian refugees fleeing hostilities to enter the country. Fewer than 30,000 have registered for Temporary Protection under the EU Temporary Protection Directive, activated for the first time in the context of the war in Ukraine, perhaps an indication of the unwelcome environment for refugees and asylum seekers in Hungary.

While most EU states applied the Directive broadly, Hungary’s restrictive interpretation excludes from protection third country nationals fleeing the war in Ukraine, even if they were permanent residents there. Such third country nationals fleeing Ukraine are also excluded from entering Hungary’s regular asylum procedure. The different treatment of some people fleeing persecution, such as non-Christians and people of color, is a clear message that non-Ukrainians should not expect help or protection from Hungarian authorities.

The Hungarian government’s hostile stance toward migrants and refugees is contrary to Pope Francis’ messages and he should utilize his time in Hungary to remind all Hungarians, and the government, that respect and humanity for those in need of protection and support should apply universally, irrespective of nationality, color, or religion.

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