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Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities

Discriminatory Practices Against Minorities The police are arriving at the place of eviction of Roma from illegally occupied housing in Budapest.

Hungary has a large number of national minorities. According to official figures, they amount to 6% of the total population, while unofficial data shows that their number reaches 15%. Roma is the largest ethnic minority in the country. With the total population of 10 million, the number of Roma in Hungary amounts to 700 000 – 800 000 people. Roma is also the most discriminated minority in the country.

Segregation of Roma in schools remains one of the problems of modern Hungary. Almost 80% of Hungarian correctional schools are filled with Roma. Authorities explain this with the weak educational background of the Roma population, but in fact, the majority of Roma children are automatically assigned to these schools. This discriminatory practice, based on long-standing prejudices, remains in spite of all court rulings. 70% of Hungarian parents do not want their children sharing a desk with Roma. 86% of 16-year-old school pupils agree with them.

Roma children are placed in special “gypsy” schools and classes. They are often subjected to segregation outside of the classroom as well – for example, they are not allowed to use common playgrounds or canteens. Currently, out of 400 thousand able-bodied Roma, only one in every four has income. Usually, Roma take on low-paid seasonal or part-time work. At the same time, Roma are almost always the first candidates for dismissal, and often cannot achieve reinstatement through legal means.

Mayor of Erpatak (member of the Jobbik party) introduced a community service programme for local Roma as a condition for them to receive additional social benefits. On the street, police is three times more likely to stop the Roma than other citizens. Courts often sentence them to more severe punishments. In 2014, there was an attempt to evict 450 Roma families in Miskolc to free up space for a stadium. In May, Miskolc council offered 6.5 thousand euros in compensation if Roma families leave their homes before July, prohibiting them from selling or letting their houses for five years. No alternative housing was offered. By December 2014, 30 families have been evicted without alternative housing.

On August 7, it was reported that two films depicting discrimination of Roma were not allowed for screening at CineFest International Film Festival in Miskolc. DPA agency reports that CineFest administration explained that due to the upcoming elections in Hungary, such film can have political repercussions in the country.

On September 26, Minister of Human Resources Zoltan Balog met with representatives of the Association of Free Evangelical Churches and the Hungarian Evangelical Alliance, where they discussed the tight provisions of the Church law. Mr Balog said that changing status cannot be difficult for active religious communities.

Asylum seekers are often detained under guard. However, after criticism from European institutions, the term for such detention was reduced to 6 months maximum. As of July 2014, 25% of asylum seekers were placed under guard. As an alternative, asylum seekers are offered to pay bail – 2000 euros, which is often too high. Unaccompanied children and teenagers are often housed with adults. There are three centres for asylum seekers in Bekescsaba, Nyirbator and Debrecen. Living conditions in these centres are often more dire than in deportation centres.

Discriminatory practices against migrants also include compulsory requirement for passports for people who come for family reunification. This particularly affects refugees from Somalia and the surrounding region, whose documents are not recognised in Hungary.

To combat illegal immigration in mid-June 2015, Hungary announced its plans to build a fence along the border with Serbia. As announced by the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Peter Szijjártó), the government “instructed the Ministry of the Interior to physically close the border with Serbia.” There was no consultation with the Serbian authorities until the reaction of Serbian Prime Minister Vučić, who stated that he was “surprised and shocked.”

Hungary's migration centres were clearly overloaded in the first half of 2015. As of June 30, twice as many people (about 4,000 thousand) remained in reception centres. At the same time, the centres themselves are not designed for holding more than 2000 people. The people had to settle in tents and containers. Many asylum-seekers were placed in sports halls. The situation at the reception centres was criticized by the Council against Racism of the European Commission, as well as by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in a report published on June 9, 2015. The report said bad conditions, problems of hygiene, rough handling and insufficient legal assistance in temporary detention centres. According to ECRI, 22% of asylum-seekers are restricted in their personal freedom. The report states that even families with young children are housed in closed reception facilities. At the same time, as ECRI writes, physical and verbal aggression often occurs in closed reception centres.

After investigating the situation in one of these detention centres in January 2015, the Plenipotentiary for Basic Rights (Laslo Székely) reported serious violations of the law and the basic personal rights of detainees (for example, constant monitoring and escorting by armed guards, keeping in crowded rooms, despite sufficient Number of vacant places, poor medical care, search of detained women by male guards, etc.)

There have been several reported cases of intimidation and abuse of refugees by the authorities. Residents of Szeged in southern Hungary reported about a case where police intimidated and laughed at frightened refugees who had just crossed the border. Another report by an undercover journalist described the behaviour of the police and immigration services as contradictory to each other. According to the journalist, the staff used hard Hungarian language, insulting asylum seekers.

Due to the new rules and the closure of the border, it is almost impossible to obtain international protection in Hungary. The procedure for granting asylum under the accelerated procedure usually ends with either the forced return of a person to the country from which he came to Hungary (mainly Serbia) or asylum seekers are encouraged to leave Hungary for Austria.

By mid-2015, all centres for the reception of refugees in Hungary were overcrowded - they contained 2-3 times more people than all the European standards. The Council of the European Anti-Racist Commission, as well as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), sharply criticized the situation at reception centres in a report published on June 9, 2015 [2]. The report reports not only the overcrowding of the centres, but also hygienic problems, ill-treatment and insufficient legal assistance in refugee centres. The report also alleges that 22 per cent of asylum-seekers are restricted in their personal freedom by being placed in closed reception facilities in which physical violence and verbal abuse occur. Moreover, decisions on the placement of certain persons in such centres, as a rule, are taken arbitrarily. The same problems were noted in August 2015 in the report of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (NNS). After the closure of the southern borders of asylum seekers who are allowed to enter the country, they are placed in transit zones right at the border, until their application is processed. The NSO criticized the practice of placing asylum seekers in the transit zone on the Hungarian-Serbian border at Röszke in connection with illegal detention practices, lack of any guarantees, permanent access to professional legal advice, lack of cooperation with specialized NGOs that are simply not allowed to transit Zone, unsatisfactory quality of food products, which are provided to detainees, lack of professional psychological assistance, limited availability of translators, etc.

Inhumane conditions and degrading treatment of refugees in Hungarian temporary accommodation centres, including transit zones, were also noted by Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders. After investigating the situation in one of the closed detention centres in January 2015, the Plenipotentiary for Fundamental Rights Laslo Székely also reported serious violations of the law and the basic personal rights of detainees (for example, constant monitoring and escort by armed guards, overcrowded cells, Free space, poor medical care, personal examination of prisoners of women by male guards, etc.)

The procedures for signing up to the waiting lists for entering the transit zones had also changed by 2017. Asylum-seekers now have to submit a so-called declaration of intent in Serbia, and they are then taken to transit camps there. They are only transported to the transit zones the day before they are allowed to enter them. Consequently, the territories in front of the transit zones have become empty, only a few tents stand in front of the transit zone in Röszke, while those awaiting to enter the one in Tompa spend the night before their entry in a building previously used to sell tax-free goods.

Several organisations pointed out that even those who get access to a transit zone find themselves in a difficult situation, especially if something makes them highly vulnerable. According to the Council of Europe, transit zones do not provide its dwellers with the necessary air of trust to come forward as victims of human trafficking, and it does not help either that Hungarian staff working in the zones do not know what procedures they need to follow to identify trafficking victims. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) emphasised in a report that Hungarian authorities also have trouble identifying torture victims among asylum-seekers for instance, because there are no provisions, internal guidance or informal practices on how early identification should look like: the Hungarian government decree only provides that it should be assessed whether an asylum-seeker requires special treatment, but it does not mention “how”.

The Council of Europe report also included further criticism on Hungarian transit zones. It mentioned that asylum applicants are not given adequate information on their rights and the asylum procedure. Moreover, the organisation criticised mass expulsion committed by Hungarian authorities. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi was also highly critical of the situation inside transit zones: he said Hungarian authorities “kept a lot of people locked into a small space” and emphasised that the prison-like conditions have an especially severe effect on children. Index.hu interviewed two families who returned from Serbia as well as HHC employees. They also raised serious concerns about transit zones: these include the lack of space to move around, over-crowdedness, insufficient food portions for babies and the lack of diapers, and mistreatment by officials. HHC’s Tímea Kovács mentioned to Index that the situation is especially severe for pregnant women as there is no prenatal care available in the zones, and there were cases when pregnant women were taken to the doctor “in handcuffs”. Kovács also highlighted that the asylum-application interviews with families take a long time, and the interviewees do not get anything to eat and drink. She added that interviewees do not even know that the presence of a lawyer must be requested and it is not automatic, which seems to confirm what the Council of Europe report criticised, namely that applicants are given no information about their rights and the procedure altogether. Index.hu asked the Immigration and Asylum Office (BMH) about these allegations, who denied that asylum-seekers are being treated unfairly.

The scandal that developed in 2016 concerning Hungarian authorities beating refugees continued in 2017 as well. In March 2017, the Swedish Aftonbladet reported from Belgrade that personnel defending the Hungarian border had started to beat asylum-seekers even more frequently while they are being taken back to Serbia. Both asylum-seekers returning from Hungary and the staff of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) claimed the injuries are caused by Hungarian border guards and their dogs. Although the Hungarian government rejected all allegations about the physical abuse of asylum-seekers, the Hungarian Office of the Prosecutor-General told the daily Magyar Nemzet in March 2017 that there had been 44 cases where legal complaints were filed against the Hungarian police for abuse committed on the Southern border and in two of these the accused policemen were found guilty and given a fine. Consequently, it is hard to believe the Hungarian government’s claims that these allegations are only aimed at discrediting Hungarian border protection efforts, as the existence of some extent of police abuse is proven by the two aforementioned verdicts.

Treatment of Hungarian Roma is another major problem in the country’s law enforcement. This includes institutional racism in the police, detention of citizens on the basis of ethnic origin and disproportionate fines. A striking example is the case in January 2015, when Béla Lakatos, the mayor of Ács in north-western Hungary, a member of the ruling Fides Party, was stopped by the police to check on the road because of his Roma ethnicity. In September 2015, a hearing was held on the case of discrimination against the Roma by police officers, who were accused of inactivity during the anti-Romani pogroms in Gyöngyöspata in 2011. The court recognized the fact of discrimination, but another court later approved police inaction during attacks on Roma by the ultra-right organisations in the city of Devecser in 2012. In accordance with the decision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, published in February 2015, five senior police officers were reprimanded in Budapest. In addition, local police chiefs were instructed to take the necessary measures to avoid discrimination in the future, including an appropriate education course for police officers. Such a decision was made after senior officials of the municipal police in Budapest illegally prevented the Roma family from moving to an apartment that they rightly bought. Arbitrary measures by the police forced the family to sell their apartment.

It often happens that policemen, prosecutors and courts are reluctant to admit violent and non-violent crimes committed against minorities as hate crimes. Criminal actions with a clear motivation for hate are often registered only as minor offenses. NGOs constantly raised their voices and urged the authorities to change their practice. In its decision in October 2015, the European Court of Human Rights condemned the Hungarian authorities for this practice and called on the authorities to properly investigate the racist motivation for the attack on the Roma as early as 2011.

Some local authorities use discriminatory measures against homeowners. The most severe case of eviction from homes occurred in Miskolc in north-eastern Hungary with a population of about 164,000 inhabitants, including a significant proportion of ethnic Roma. Planned evictions affected about 450, mostly Roma families. In May 2014, the local authorities of Miskolc, led by the mayor of the town of Ákos Kriza, a member of the ruling Fides Party, adopted an amendment to local legislation concerning the termination of relations with tenants. Social housing of poor quality. This mainly concerned Roma families. At the same time, the authorities offered them monetary compensation for the purchase of real estate outside Miskolc, with the condition not to sell it for five years. Thus, a mechanism was created for ethnic cleansing in Hungary's third largest city. In May 2015, the Supreme Court of Hungary (Curia) ruled that these rules are discriminatory, and they violate the right to privacy and freedom of movement. The court's decision, however, concerned only the issue of monetary compensation, and not eviction in general, and the authorities at the national level have so far avoided compelling the local government of Miskolc to comply with these rules. As a result, illegal practices continued even after the decision of the Supreme Court. At the same time, Hungarian NGOs, as well as Hungarian commissioner for fundamental rights Laslo Székely, also attracted attention to the problem. In addition, Michael Georg Link, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), criticized the practice of the authorities and expressed his support for the conclusions contained in the report of Mr. Székely after his visit to Miskolc.

Hungary was experiencing difficulties with the influx of refugees in 2015. Around 150 thousand applications for asylums had been registered that year, compared to 2014. The Hungarian government decided to tackle the issue by building a fence along its Croatian and Serbian borders – latter is a country which they had recently declared as a safe country. By the end of October, more than 500 people have been sentenced for illegal border crossing and sent to migrant detention centres to await deportation (often to Serbia). Hungarian authorities also introduced a fast-track system for asylum application, which only provided a 3 day deadline for appeals.

In September 2015, clashes were reported at the Serbian border, with Hungarian forces using teargas and water cannons against refugees. Attacks against reporters have been also reported: three journalists were forced into the country and accused of illegal border crossing. Reporters were denied entry into refugee reception centres under the pretext of protecting refugee’s private lives.

It should also highlight the problem of increasing the number of refusals to asylum seekers. Only 8.5% of positive decisions on refugees were taken for the 2016 in the country. And in connection with the closure of the southern borders of Hungary with Serbia and Croatia in 2015 and the tightening of migration rules, the number of registered asylum-seekers declined by 83% (177,135 in 2015 and 29,432 in 2016).

According to the experience and reports of Hungarian human rights organizations such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU), and the Roma Press Center (RSK), the police tend to issue disproportionately high fines to members of vulnerable groups, especially the Roma for minor offenses with a low level of risk. Thus, the authorities use the regime of fines for minor offenses as a tool to keep Roma in certain areas under control.

Reports include cases where police wait for their victims on the outskirts of a gypsy settlement to issue a fine for any minor deviations from the rules. There is evidence that people are fined for not walking on the sidewalk, not crossing the street through a zebra-stripe crossing, etc.

In Hungary, crimes against members of the Roma community (as well as against other minority communities such as Jews and representatives of the LGBT community) are not classified as hate crimes, and racist or ideological motives in these crimes are not considered. Thus, when a group of men dressed in ski masks and armed with baseball bats, knives, and tear gas canisters, attacked a small group of Roma public workers in 2014, the police did not investigate racist motives. In addition, in May 2016, the regional court, in its first instance, rejected the racist motive and stated that the reason was in a personal conflict between one of the victims and the perpetrators, despite the fact that the criminals attacked the victims, shouting the words "Dirty Gypsies, die!" Similarly, in the case of serial killings of the members of the Roma community in 2008 and 2009, the Supreme Court of Hungary did not emphasize racist motives. The terms "gypsies", "anti-Romani manifestations" or "racist" were not even mentioned.

Another terrible incident occurred in the city of Gyöngyöspata, where in 2011 the Roma were attacked by right-wing radicals and the police fined not the attackers, but the defenders. In April 2016, the Debrecen court rejected the first instance judgment on the racial nature of the attack and cases of direct discrimination by the police. At the same time, in April 2016 the European Court of Human Rights stated that the Hungarian authorities could not properly investigate the racist motives of threats and insults committed during the anti-Romani processions in Gyöngyöspata.

. In 2017, the Hungarian government published a report assessing why Hungarian pupils’ PISA test scores had been so low in 2015. Information acquired by Hungarian media revealed that there was a proposal in the report to create boarding schools for “students with disadvantageous family backgrounds” (which are mainly Roma families). Although this recommendation did not make it into the final document, in 2017, then Minister of Human Capacities, Zoltán Balog, voiced his support for the segregation of Roma children several times. For instance, in November 2017 he said at a meeting of the National Assembly’s cultural committee that a short period of segregation supported by the adequate pedagogical methods prepares students for integration. The European Commission’s report on the implementation of national Roma integration strategies mentioned that Hungary has progressed considerably in terms of the early education of the Roma (for example by making it compulsory to take children to kindergarten), but adds that over 60 percent of Hungarian Roma children attend segregated schools (where most or all students are of Roma origin).

The European Commission’s report on Hungary published in November 2017 also emphasised the issue of the increasing segregation of Roma pupils and highlighted that the share of early school leavers is especially high among the Roma in the country.

Poverty among the Roma remains especially high in Hungary, although it is declining. The European Commission mentions the vast majority of the Hungarian Roma are employed in the (low-paying) Public Works Scheme, and their integration into the primary labour market remains highly limited. Another report adds that the rate of young Hungarian Roma without a job and outside of any formal education and training programmes is dangerously high. In this report, the European Commission highlights the lack of efforts to monitor and fight the discrimination against the Roma on the labour market and to manage the considerable difference between the employment rate of male and female Roma citizens.

Segregation is present in the Hungarian healthcare sector as well. According to a European Parliament report from 2017, there are numerous Hungarian hospitals with segregated and inadequate maternity wards, and Roma women are subject to racial and physical abuse when giving birth. The report adds that the rate of stillbirths among the Roma in Hungary is considerably higher than that among the majority of the population.

Discrimination against the Roma is also visible in local self-governments’ practices. For example, in Kisvárda a National Roma Methodological and Education Centre was built for HUF 700 million (approximately EUR 2.25 million), which was then given to local footballers and handball players to use, and allegedly the Roma are not even allowed to enter the building. It was also revealed that the local self-government in Kisvárda is willing to pay HUF 1.5 million (approximately EUR 4,800) to those living in social apartments if they are willing to move out, which lead to about 20–30, mostly Roma individuals leaving the town.

In December 2021, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sued the Ministry of Human Resources over the fact that children from Roma families were more likely to be placed in foster care than children of other ethnic backgrounds. The center's research found that although Roma comprise less than 20 percent of the population in the Nograd district, Roma children account for more than 80 percent of those placed in state care. Although under relevant Hungarian law children cannot be removed from their families solely for material reasons, poverty of the affected families was clearly a significant reason for most removals. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has also repeatedly urged Hungary (most recently in its Concluding Observations of February 2020 on Hungary's sixth periodic report) to "fully implement the prohibition on separating children from their families and placing them in alternative care based on the economic situation of those families.

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