UN cites strong concerns over Hungarian border fence plan that could deter refugees and asylum-seekers

A Bangladeshi refugee family cook in their new restaurant in Budapest, Hungary where they have found security after a 20-year search for a safe home. Photo: UNHCR/Z. Pályi

19 June 2015 – Two United Nations agencies today expressed strong concerns over Hungary’s plans to build a four-metre high fence along its border with Serbia, with the UN refugee agency saying the wall will “be a further obstacle for people who have fled from war zones like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and who desperately need safety and protection.”

On the eve of World Refugee Day, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) both also expressed strong concern over the Hungarian Government’s efforts to paint refugees as a threat to the country.

OHCHR noted the Hungarian Government’s plans announced this week to build a fence along its border with Serbia, saying such a move could “force migrants to adopt more risky routes and modes of transport, putting them at greater risk of abuse by traffickers and smugglers.”

“If adopted…such harsh border enforcement measures…may prevent asylum-seekers, who may be in need of international protection, from accessing Hungarian territory,” Cécile Pouilly, OHCHR spokesperson told reporters today in Geneva.

UNHCR Regional Representative for Central Europe, Montserrat Feixas Vihé said: “We are deeply concerned that this wall will be a further obstacle for people who have fled from war zones like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and who desperately need safety and protection.”

So far this year, more than 23,000 people from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq – three countries plagued by war and instability – have applied for asylum in Hungary, according to the refugee agency.

The human rights spokesperson, meanwhile, said: “We reiterate our concerns at the anti-migrant xenophobic rhetoric that is being disseminated by the Hungarian Government, most recently through an anti-migration billboard campaign.”

“One of the Government’s posters reads: “If you come to Hungary, you cannot take away Hungarians’ jobs,” Ms. Pouilly said.

“On 22 May, we publicly criticized a questionnaire on immigration sent by the Government to its citizens, in which unfounded links were sought to be made between migration and terrorism,” she added.

For its part, UNHCR’s regional office in Budapest has prepared a set of billboards showcasing refugees who have successfully integrated into Hungarian society. One of the UNHCR posters features Zeeshan, a young Pakistani man who plays in Hungary’s enthusiastic, but little-known, national cricket team. “I want to play well for this country,” his message reads.

“The campaign clearly demonstrates how tragic human stories can end positively both for refugees and the receiving country,” said Ms. Feixas Vihé, adding: “Our campaign shows how integration can be a ‘win-win.’”


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