“The number of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers in Hungary decreased last year, but we cannot uphold the illusion that the problems will be solved”, Director General of the Immigration and Asylum Office Zsuzsanna Végh said at a press conference in Budapest.
“29,432 people were registered as asylum seekers and 18,236 as illegal migrants”, Ms. Végh said, adding: “More than 400 thousand illegal migrants arrived in the country in 2015 and 177 people submitted requests for asylum”. “The EU-Turkey agreement concluded in the spring led to a reduction in the rate of arrival of migrants, but the agreement is a fragile one”, the Director General recalled.
“Hotspots in Italy and Greece have also begun operations; 45 colleagues from the Office of Immigration were involved in work at the hotspots, although they have had to be recalled temporarily due to the worsening security situation”, Ms. Végh told reporters.
The Director General said it was important that the European Border and Coast Guard has been established, and that the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) had set out on the road to becoming and agency similar to Frontex. “The sphere of competence of the EASO is related to several issues that affect national sovereignty, and accordingly we cannot expect quick results”, she indicated.
“It looks like the European Union may be ‘waking from its Sleeping Beauty dream’ and has begun debating several European refugee systems”, she pointed out, adding that we should not sustain any illusions about the fact that the required legislation will be adopted this year. Acts of terrorism and the crimes committed by immigrants have forced Member States to concentrate more on security and become more cooperative than previously, she explained.
The number of illegal immigrants arriving in Europe fell significantly last year, to 500 thousand last year from 1.8 million in 2015, she indicated, adding that there was however no significant drop in the number of asylum requests, because Member States were only able to register those who arrived in 2015 last year.
For instance, in Germany there were 745 thousand applicants, whereas only 248 thousand immigrants arrived in 2016; the rest were still from the previous year. Hungary is in 7th place among the European Union’s member States with regard to the number of registered asylum seekers. Hungary is still fifth with regard to the number of asylum seekers per 1000 citizens, with a ratio of 2.93, although it was in first place in 2015. Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Iran continue to be the leading source countries in the EU as a whole, although the number of migrants arriving from Kosovo and Albania fell.
With regard to the situation in Hungary, Ms. Végh told reporters that while in 2015 over 400 thousand illegal immigrants arrived in the country and 177 thousand people submitted requests for asylum, the trend was reversed in 2016 and there were more asylum seekers than illegal immigrants.
In addition to international developments, the measures introduced by the Hungarian Government, such as the reinforcement of external border security, the amendment of regulations on detaining refugees, or the establishment of the so-called 8-kilometre rule, also played an important part in reducing the numbers of asylum seekers, she highlighted.
With regard to the make-up of asylum seekers in Hungary, the majority are Afghans (11052), followed by Syrians (4979), Pakistanis (3,873), Iraqis (3452) and Iranians (1286). People from a total of 76 different countries submitted asylum requests last year, she added.
“The majority of asylum seekers have been exploiting the system for years when submitting their asylum requests, and move on to other countries without waiting for their asylum proceedings to be completed, and accordingly the Office is only able to process relatively few cases. 4675 requests for asylum were rejected last year and 432 applicants were afforded international protection”, the Director General highlighted.
With regard to action to stop illegal migration, she told reporters that the Office made 4580 decisions to expel illegal immigrants (generally with regard to asylum seekers who have had their requests for asylum rejected) and 3694 decisions to detain migrants. In common with the other Member States of the European Union, Hungary was also not successful with regard to repatriation; there were a total of 845 cases of deportation last year, primarily to Kosovo, Algeria, Pakistan, Iran and Morocco, she said, indicating that 64 citizens from 15 countries accepted assisted repatriation.
On the subject of transit zones, she told reporters that 9681 people had entered the transit zone sin 2016, of who 8771 were immediately transported on to receiving stations because they needed special care (children, families, the elderly, single mothers etc.). The majority of those who were taken to receiving stations left the country before the asylum requests were duly processed. The Office distributed 75 thousand food packages at the various transit zones; most of the packages were given to people waiting to enter the country.
The Director General stressed that more is being spent on caring for refugees each year; 6.7 billion forints last year, following 5.4 billion forints in 2015. The Office has receive the required funding for the performance of all additional duties; the projected budget of 8.7 billion forints ended up increasing to 16.3 billion forints by the end of the year.
With regard to 2017, she said that the agreement with Turkey is fragile and if the 3 million people waiting in Turkey were to set off for Europe it would represent a significant danger, as too would the million who are fleeing poverty in Africa. “The EU must pay more attention to protecting its external borders and to supporting source countries”, she added.