Hungary functions as a transit, source, and destination country of both regular and irregular migration. Its geographic location, European Union (EU) membership, and relative prosperity, collectively act as pull factors for migrants from neighbouring countries, including ethnic Hungarians. As an EU Member State, a section of Hungary’s borders form the external borders of the European Union.
Due to its geographic location, Hungary is one of the main transit countries of irregular land migration towards other Member States of the European Union. Both Eastern and South-Eastern migration routes cross Hungarian territory, with the Western Balkan route (via Turkey, Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia or Croatia to Hungary, then other EU Member States) being the most active. Prior to the construction of the border fences along the Hungary-Serbia and Hungary-Croatia borders, Hungary was one of the main entry points into the EU for migrants seeking to gain access to other Member States.
The Hungarian Government, in addition to the construction of border fences, has also enacted a series of legal amendments intended to reduce irregular migration through Hungary. Since their initial enactment in 2015, these measures have reduced asylum applications to Hungary, and decreased the number of irregular border crossings following their peak of 441,515 in 2015.
There has also been a shift over time in the demographic makeup of those applying for asylum in Hungary. In 2014, the most numerous asylum applications came from Kosovars (21,453), Afghans (8,796), and Syrians (6,857). However, in 2015 asylum applications from Syrian citizens and Afghan citizens surged (64,587 and 46,227 respectively), while the number of asylum applications from Kosovar citizens, remained fairly constant at 24,454. Notably, while not to the extent of inflated applications by Syrian and Afghan citizens, the number of asylum application from Pakistani citizens increased from 401 in 2014 to 15157 in 2015, and Iraqi citizens’ applications grew from 497 in 2014 to 9,279 in 2015. In all cases, the decline in applications between 2015 and 2016 was drastic, and likely a result of the aforementioned border fences and legal amendments, as well as various international factors including the EU-Turkey agreement. Total applications fell from 177,135 in 2015 to 29,432 in 2016 with Syrian applications falling 92% to 4979, Afghan applications falling 76% to 11,052, and Kosovar applications dwindling 99% to just 135.
As a result of the Hungarian policy, the closure of the Western-Balkans route and the EU-Turkey Statement, the trends of irregular migration have shifted. While 7,182 migrants applied for asylum in the first quarter of 2016, this number dropped to 1,495 during the same period in 2017, representing an 82% decrease in the number of asylum seekers. In the first quarter of 2017 Afghani (204), Iraqi (138) and Syrian (84) nationals were the most common nationalities among irregular border crossings.
The European Migration Crisis and Hungary
In 2015, Hungary was the second European Union country, behind Greece, to apprehend irregular migrants at its external borders with 411,515 recorded crossings. However, the construction of the fences at the two Southern borders with Serbia and Croatia in September and October 2015 respectively, put Hungary outside the Western Balkan migratory route. Prior to the completion of the fences and the start of the migration crisis in summer 2015, the average daily arrivals in Hungary was 274 people/day. During the months of June, July, and August the average number of registered arrivals in Hungary increased 447% to 1,500 persons/day. The increase of daily arrivals in the country continued during the months of September and October in 2015. In these two months, the average daily arrivals recorded were higher than 7,000 people. In the months of November and December 2015 the daily arrivals in Hungary dropped to a record low of 10 people/day. Since January 2016 the number of daily arrivals to Hungarian territory has increased each month. The percentage increase from January to February was 355% (from 18 persons/day to 82 persons/day), while from February to March there was a 48 % increase of average daily apprehended migrants (from 82 persons/day to 116 persons/day). While there initially was a 20% increase in arrivals between Jan-Feb 2017 (138 persons/day to 166 persons/day), this number dropped by 78% in March to 37 persons/day.
A series of amendments to asylum legislation caused many changes in the arrival procedures and overall treatment of asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection in Hungary. In August and September 2015, together with the completion of the fence, Hungary designated Serbia as a safe third country,
allowed for expedited asylum determination, and limited procedural safeguards. Additionally, climbing through the border fence or damaging it became a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment.
A system of transit zones was also implemented in 2015, and they remain the only place where migrants can legally enter the country, in Röszke and Tompa. As only 5 people/day are allowed to enter Hungary in each transit zone, migrants often remain in pre-transit zones in Serbia, where ‘community leaders’ establish lists of those who want to enter Hungary. The waiting time to access a transit zone is minimum 6 months.
In 2016, a new amendment to asylum law prescribed police to push migrants who had “illegally” entered the territory and were apprehended within 8km from the border, back to the other side of the border fence. More amendments have been subsequently adopted to decrease or suppress the different support mechanisms to asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection. In 2017, new revisions to asylum law were enacted that decreed all irregular migrants be pushed back to the Southern border. While it is only possible to make an asylum application in a transit zone, asylum seekers, including children over the age of 14, are detained throughout the time of their procedure.
The above asylum policies have been highly criticized on the basis international and EU law as many international actors have argued that effective access to protection and the principle of non-refoulement are not upheld. Due to reception conditions in Hungary, several EU member states have chosen to stop transfers to Hungary under the Dublin III mechanism. Hungary was also condemned by the European Court of Human Rights in the Ilias and Ahmed v. Hungary case of March 2017. The court ruled that the detention of migrants in transit zones qualified as a violation of the right to liberty, and challenged the legality of the detention centres policies.
Collectively, these asylum policies have greatly impacted the number of asylum seekers in Hungary. Between September 2015 and 31 December 2016, 2,895 people were taken to court for “prohibited crossing of the border closure” and a majority were convicted. Between July 2016 and 31 December 2016, 19,000 migrants were pushed back beyond the border in accordance with the ”8 km-distance-to-the-border” rule. The number of asylum seekers fell to 29,432 people seeking asylum in Hungary in 2016, while they were 177,135 in 2015. These asylum seekers were mainly coming from Afghanistan (11,052), Syria (4,979), Pakistan (3,873), Iraq (3,452) and Iran (1,286). In 2016, the Asylum Authorities made 54,586 decisions on asylum applications: 49,479 of them were suspended and 4,675 were rejected. According to Eurostat, less than 1% of the asylum applications were accepted (425); this is the lowest acceptance rate in the EU. In the first quarter of 2017, the Asylum Authorities made 3,832 decisions on claims for international protection, 1,622 claims were suspended and 2,131 rejected, while only a small proportion of claims were accepted (79).
Migrant Facilities in Hungary
In Hungary, there are different types of facilities accommodating migrants according to their status. These centres are managed and operated by different authorities of the Hungarian state.
Migrants who claim asylum in Hungary are accommodated in one of the two transit zones and are detained there for the duration of their procedure. The transit zone in Tompa accommodates families from Syria, Iraq and Arab-speaking countries and single men of various nationalities. The facility in Röszke hosts families from Afghanistan, Iran and some African countries and unaccompanied children.
The reception centre in Vámosszabadi operated by the Office of Immigration and Asylum (OIA) hosts beneficiaries of international protection. This is an open facility: migrants can leave the centre during the day, but a curfew time shall be observed. Under the current legislation, people accommodated in the Vámosszabadi centre are not entitled to state-provided pocket money, only to meals, and are allowed to stay in the facility for a maximum of 30 days.
Repeat asylum seekers or Dublin returnees are transferred into a closed asylum detention centre operated by the OIA. There are two facilities of this kind in Hungary as shown in the map below.
The fourth type of migrant facility is managed and operated by the Hungarian Police. These institutions accommodate migrants who enter Hungarian territory in an irregular manner and do not claim asylum. Moreover, if a person overstays in Hungary and has no identification documents, he/she is also transferred into an alien policing detention centre. These facilities are closed and a migrant can be kept there up to two years according to latest changes in the asylum law.
The last type of facility is the child protection centre. There is currently only one of these centres, managed by the Guardianship Office of Hungary in Fót. It is open, and accommodates unaccompanied minors apprehended in Hungary, but is meant to close down by summer 2018.
In 2016, 30% of foreigners who resided in Hungary came for the purpose of work, making labour the most popular entitlement of residence. Labour migration of Hungarian citizens has increased, and as a result, Hungary is gradually becoming a country in need of foreign workers in certain economic sectors. According to Manpower Group, more than 50% of Hungarian firms have significant difficulties filling jobs, especially in the field of information technology and health care. The country also has a serious demand for manual labour workers. The Hungarian Migration Strategy, adopted in October 2013, also emphasizes that although it is important to ensure the protection of the national labour market, receiving additional migrant labour is a necessity. Attracting knowledge-based migration has been set as a goal, but there is no developing tendency of highly qualified third-country nationals applying for the EU Blue Card as a possible way to gain residence permit in an EU country.
In 2016 and 2017, the Government of Hungary has repeatedly stated the country’s need for skilled labour, targeting Ukraine as a particular country of origin. Several reports confirm that Hungary is going through a major labour shortage.
As immigration to Hungary has increased over the past decade, a growing need for a coherent integration policy and assistance framework has become evident. In the decade between 2001 and 2011, the number of foreign citizens residing in Hungary grew from 110,028 to 206,909. However, in more recent years, this number has taken a sharp fall to 156, 606 in 2016, and 166,030 in 2017. These statistics, provided by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office are in stark contrast with the increase of almost double of Third Country Nationals (TCNs) living in Hungary. Nevertheless, the majority of the total foreign population comes from European countries, approximately 66%. Romania and Germany have the largest number of citizens residing in Hungary, with China having the largest number of Asian residents in Hungary. Of the total number of foreign residents living in Hungary, 56% are men, and 44% are women.
While the number of foreign citizens living in Hungary has fallen in recent years, public opinion has remained negative towards immigrants, as the most recent Eurobarometer poll indicates that 65% of Hungarians consider immigration to be the most important issue facing the EU, ranking it higher than terrorism and the economy. In the same Eurobarometer survey 81% of Hungarians responded that they felt negatively towards immigration from outside the EU, and 94% answered that they would like additional measures for irregular migration (Standard Eurobarometer 86).
According to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, 350,000 Hungarians have moved abroad since 1989. The phenomenon of emigration has not been as significantly influenced by Hungary joining the EU in 2004, as by the first waves of the international economic crisis in 2008. As a consequence of the decreasing employment rate, an increasing number of Hungarian nationals decided to move abroad. 7.4% of Hungarians between the ages of 18-49 lived abroad in 2013 and their number has significantly increased, as evidenced by the 29,400 Hungarians who moved abroad in 2016. Main countries of interest are Germany, where the number of Hungarians is estimated to be around 124,000; the United Kingdom (74,500) and Austria (36,000). According to the latest emigration trend, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium have also become popular destination countries for Hungarian nationals.
To address the increasing pace of emigration, the Hungarian Government launched a programme in 2015 (“Gyere haza fiatal”) to encourage the return of young Hungarians living in the UK. The programme was operational from 2015 to 2016 and offered Hungarians with a higher education degree job opportunities, housing assistance, and mobility grants to facilitate the travel of those interested in returning for job interviews and mentoring.
Trafficking in Human Beings
Recently, Hungary has become more visible as a country of origin for victims of trafficking. Reports indicate that Hungary is among the top five origin countries of EU trafficking victims, as Hungarians constituted 18% of the total victims identified in trafficking investigations by EUROPOL between 2009 and 2013. While the actual number of victims remains unknown, experts and professionals agree that the scope of the phenomenon has been on the rise. The growth of human trafficking is related not only to the trafficking of human beings across international borders, but also to trafficking within Hungary. As such, internal trafficking has become an increasing concern. Current trends indicate trafficking victims are being moved from areas of high unemployment in Eastern Hungary to Western Hungary. In 2016, the government identified in total 44 victims of trafficking, and Hungarian NGOs reported assisting approximately 143 trafficking victims - 77 female, 26 male, and 40 minors.
Despite growing numbers, trafficking in human beings is not seen as a problem by society at large, due to the fact that it affects the subjective sense of safety to a lesser extent when compared to other violent criminal acts or offences against property. Additionally, some victims themselves sometimes do not realize that they have become victims of criminal activities and may even view acts, such as prostitution, as a chance for better financial conditions. Others may not realize that they have become victims of criminal activity until much later in the trafficking process as exemplified by many Hungarian women who are lured into sham marriages to third-country nationals within Europe, and reportedly subjected to forced prostitution. Public awareness of the phenomenon is largely insufficient, even though a rising number of Hungarians go to work abroad and may potentially become victims of labour exploitation, especially in sectors such as agriculture, construction, and in factories. Groups most vulnerable to trafficking include those living in extreme poverty, the Roma, unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, and homeless men. The Roma are overrepresented among women and children who are subjected to sex trafficking within the country and Europe, in particular to the Netherlands and Switzerland. A large number of these victims come from state-provided childcare institutions and correctional facilities where many of them are underage and recruited by traffickers. Additionally, Hungarian men and women are victims of forced labour domestically and abroad, primarily in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.
The number of human smuggling crimes has significantly increased from 338 in the first half of 2014 to 867 in the same period of 2015. The Hungarian-Serbian border has been identified as the scene of the majority of human smuggling crimes, as local numbers increased from 231 to 396 during the period of 2014 and the first half of 2015. Serbia has the highest number of smugglers with data indicating an increase from 149 to 396 smugglers apprehended during the period of 2014 and first half of 2015.
The number of human smuggling crimes in 2016 shows a significant drop compared to 2015, (1,177 to 253). Data from 2017 indicates that the majority of recorded smugglers have been Serbian, followed by Turks and Hungarians.
The World Factbook
The World FactbookThe World DataBank – World Development Indicators
UNDP Human Development Reports
UN International Migrant Stock: The 2013 revision
UNSD Demographic Statistics
United Nations Multilingual Terminology Database
World Development Indicators
World Bank staff calculation
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Interior Ministry of Hungary
Seeming Project The Economist: More vacancies than visitors, Sept 19th 2015
Hungarian Central Statistical Office
This page was last updated on 11 August 2017.