BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The U.N. refugee agency urged Hungary on Thursday not to pass a bill aimed at tightening asylum rules, saying the move would make it impossible for Budapest to give sanctuary to anyone fleeing war-stricken countries.
Hungary’s right-wing government wants to shorten the time frame for screening asylum claims and to reject claims from those migrants who, on their journey from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq, have already passed through so-called safe third countries and did not request asylum there.
The location of Hungary, a landlocked central European country of 10 million people in the European Union’s visa-free Schengen zone has made it an attractive transit route for tens of thousands of migrants entering Europe through the Balkans from the Middle East and Africa.
So far this year, almost 70,000 migrants have crossed into Hungary illegally, mostly on its border with Serbia. Most of them move on to wealthier western Europe.
“Adoption of these proposals would have devastating implications for thousands of people seeking safety in Hungary,” Montserrat Feixas Vihe, the U.N refugee agency’s (UNHCR) regional representative for Central Europe, said in a statement.
“We are asking the Hungarian government and public representatives to ensure that any amendments to its national asylum legislation is in conformity with international and regional protection standards, and is not contrary to those standards.”
The Hungarian parliament plans to vote on Friday whether the planned change to asylum rules can be decided on a fast-track basis, before the summer recess.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said Hungary’s borders should be defended with all means.
His government intends in the coming months to erect a four-meter-(13-foot)-high fence along a 175-km (110-mile) stretch of its border with Serbia to stop the migrant influx from the south.
The UNHCR has condemned the plan. “In fact, the fence will only push people into the hands of smugglers and traffickers,” the agency said in the statement.
UNHCR also said that around 80 percent of asylum-seekers in Hungary are currently coming from conflict zones – Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq – which meant that many were likely to be in need of international protection.
Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Mark Heinrich