BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The United Nations and the Council of Europe both criticized Hungary’s planned changes to its asylum rules on Friday, saying they would harm asylum-seekers’ right to seek safety there and put them at risk.
The European human rights watchdog said the legislation would strike a blow to refugee protection in Hungary if adopted in its current form.
The right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban 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 safe countries without requesting asylum.
Parliament is likely to vote on the amendment on Monday.
Orban has said Hungary’s borders must be defended by all means from a tide of migrants coming through the Balkans. So far this year, almost 70,000 migrants have crossed into Hungary illegally, mostly over its border with Serbia.
“I call on the Hungarian Parliament to avoid taking any decision which would undermine the right to seek asylum, which is one of the milestone achievements of democratic societies,” the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks said in a statement.
The U.N. refugee agency also urged Hungary on Thursday not to pass the bill in a rush.
On Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published an open letter to Hungarian lawmakers in which it said the legislative amendments would “jeopardize the lives and safety of asylum-seekers arriving from war zones”.
It said that if draft amendments on the building of a fence along the Serbian-Hungarian border and declaring Serbia a safe third country were adopted, “this would make it impossible for people fleeing persecution to access international protection in Hungary”.
“Apart from failing on moral and basic humanitarian standards, the proposed amendments are not in line with Hungary’s obligations under international treaties,” the UNHCR said.
Hungary plans to start building a four-meter (13-foot) fence along its border with Serbia within weeks to stem the flow of illegal migrants.
Being a part of the European Union’s visa-free Schengen zone, Hungary is an attractive destination for tens of thousands of migrants entering Europe via the Balkans from the Middle East and Africa. Most then move on to wealthier western Europe.
Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Angus MacSwan