The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, is planning to tighten immigration laws following his election victory in April. But as the country under Orban's leadership seems to be turning into an authoritarian fortress, there have been more complaints of human rights abuses against migrants.
Viktor Orban doesn't mince his words when it comes to his views on migrants. The Hungarian leader recently told the German "Bild" newspaper: "We don't see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders. (…) They crossed the border illegally. That was not a wave of refugees, but an invasion."
Following his latest successful anti-migrant election campaign, Prime Minister Orban has announced that he plans to use the two-thirds majority of his Fidesz Party in Parliament to make immigration laws in Hungary even tougher. He hopes to push a constitutional amendment through Parliament, which he says would boost national security.
The wording of the new law states that no foreign population from outside Europe could be settled in Hungary, and that the application of European Union laws could not infringe upon Hungary's territorial integrity or the make up of its population. The law would result in a further increase in border security measures as well, even though Hungary has spent more than €1 billion on beefing up border defenses.
The same bill failed to go through Parliament once before in 2016, when Orban's party lacked the two-thirds majority needed to change the country's constitution. But after his landslide re-election this year, it's more likely to succeed this time.
Refugees 'not welcome'
Hungary's immigration policy under Orban's government has been attracting a great deal of public attention as well as criticism outside the country. The suggested changes to the Hungarian constitution have been severely criticized by the EU; the Economist magazine has called Hungary a "flawed democracy", and a report published recently by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has criticized Hungary's heavy-handed political approach to immigration, saying that the ruling Fidesz Party's election campaign was partly based on "intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric."
In fact, Hungary's anti-immigrant attitude dates back to the onset of the refugee crisis in 2015, when Orban's Fidesz Party began pushing an anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Felix Bender, a Hungary-based political activist and academic researcher on refugees, says that since 2015 "Orban has adopted this aggressive stance towards refugees that is getting harsher and harsher."
"Until 2015, immigration was hardly an issue at all. But by now, asking for asylum has basically been criminalized. There's even a law now that says that if you cross the border into Hungary illegally you can be arrested and end up spending up to five years in prison," Bender told InfoMigrants.
"So there's a pretty hostile environment for refugees in Hungary at the moment, and there's nothing to suggest that Orban is going to back down from any of his policies or change his rhetoric."
With the arrival of thousands of refugees on Hungary's border, Orban's previous government also erected a fortified barrier along its border with Serbia and Croatia in 2015. The barbed wire fence significantly reduced the number of migrants who were able to get into Hungary. Still, Orban has continued to campaign against foreign influences in the country. And Hungarian authorities measures to keep out refugees and migrants have received condemnation from Amnesty International and many other human rights organizations.
"There have been a number of reports on border violence in Hungary since 2016. But Orban's government does nothing to stop these serious violations at the border," Felix Bender told InfoMigrants.
"There are these vigilante groups made up of everyday people patrolling the border in military uniforms. They catch refugees, handcuff them, drive them back to the border, take their pictures and wait for the police to arrive to officially kick them out.
"And that's where the violence happens. We've heard reports that people's mobile phones were destroyed, that they were sprayed with pepper spray, threatened with dogs, and beaten. Some were pushed back into Serbia through the fence while being kicked and beaten and have suffered deep cuts. But unless there's great international outcry about how Hungary treats refugees, nothing will change."
EU accused of 'benefiting'
Bender doesn't blame these violations on Hungary's approach to immigration but rather criticizes the European Union for allowing them to take place under Hungary's watch. In his view, there's a marriage-of-convenience between the EU and Hungary when it comes to protecting the EU's outer borders.
"Politicians like (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel can claim to have a principled approach to asylum and refugees, saying that everybody that deserves to be granted asylum status will be welcome in Germany. But she doesn't even have to deal with any of these issues as long as the countries on the European external border like Hungary continue to go out of their way to not let anybody in. And this exactly what these European politicians want."
Bender believes that EU countries, including Germany, are actually taking lessons from Hungary's laws against migration and that they are starting to implement similar systems.
"If you look at statements by other politicians such as (German Interior Minister) Horst Seehofer, you'll see that they actually want to copy the sort of regime that Orban has put in place in Hungary: with fast-track asylum procedures, transit zones at the borders, and use of police to control migrants," Bender explained.
"All of this points to the fact that the European Union is trying to keep refugees out as much as possible."
However, Germany's far-right AfD party spokesperson, Petr Bystron, calls Orban "Merkel's opposite" and says his election win shows how the German chancellor is isolating the country from the rest of Europe with her migration policy.
Merkel's government has also frequently distanced itself from Orban and his stance on migration. After his election victory in April, a German government spokesperson said that there remained "controversial issues in (our) cooperation, the different stances in migration policy come to mind."
Milan Nic, from the German Council on Foreign Relations, says European countries like Germany have taken a "pragmatic approach" to dealing with Hungary, suggesting that their views on immigration do remain some distance apart. Nic also doubts that Europe would ever achieve Orban's extreme position.
"They might want to copy some [measures to increase border controls] but it would not be possible to implement the Hungarian solution in Germany. It would be unconstitutional."
Hurting Hungary's pro-migrant NGOs
In Hungary, refugees are also being deprived of access to legal appeal, whether against asylum rejection letters or human rights violations. The government is set to introduce another piece of legislation as part of its offensive against immigration: the new "Stop Soros" bill, which is likely to affect all NGOs that support migrants.
The law, named after US billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, who supports a series of NGOs in Hungary, would see a 25 percent punitive tax imposed on all foreign donations to NGOs that serve migrants' causes, including humanitarian services and legal aid.
The Fidesz Party government has long accused Soros and his organizations of wanting to undermine the government and "flood" Hungary with foreigners to weaken the order. Felix Bender warnds, the law will be the death of many organizations that support refugees.
"These NGO laws will make it impossible for human rights lawyers and NGOs to help refugees."