Hungary reflecting global trend as number of refugees decreases

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The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, organised a very special concert to mark World Refugee Day on Tuesday, June 20th. The Dutch RABASA group from Cape Verde played world music in an open air concert on Budapest's Bakats square to an audience that included refugees.

At present there are approximately 500 to 2,000 refugees in Hungary's three main refugee centres in the towns of Debrecen, Bekescaba and Bicske. Estimates are rough as it's difficult to monitor the exact number of refugees based in Hungary once they leave the state-run centres. But has Hungary attracted more refugees since she joined the European Union just over two years ago? Public information officer of the UN Refugee Agency in Budapest Andrea Szobolits says:

"No, absolutely not. The number of refugees has been steadily decreasing in the past few years both globally and in Hungary. It is a general trend that there are fewer refugees now than a couple of years ago. In Hungary, only 1,600 people asked for asylum status and out of them only 97 got refugee status and we believe that the decrease is due to the fact that the largest conflict zones of the world are actually becoming more and more peaceful. The peace-keeping operations in Afghanistan and a lot of African countries are successful and the largest refugee-producing countries are actually starting to receive their nationals back. Examples are Afghanistan or Liberia. These refugee returns can be felt in Europe as well. In Central Europe, for example, there were 44 percent less refugees in 2005 than in 2004. On the EU level, this decrease is equal to 15 percent."

But has Hungary attracted more migrants since she joined the European Union just over 2 years ago?

"While in the 1990s, Hungary experienced a sudden influx of Yugoslav refugees of various ethnic backgrounds and at the end of the 1990s Hungary saw a large influx from Kosovo, today, as there aren't any such crises near the borders of Hungary today, they are accommodated in much more spacious rooms and much better hygienic conditions. It is also important to mention that Hungary has received significant support from the European Union to develop its refugee reception centres."

Due to her geographic location Hungary used to be a transit country in the past. How about the present and the future?

"Certainly Hungary has traditionally been on the crossroads of both migrants and refugees so a lot of people who were heading towards Western Europe were transiting through Hungary. But as Hungary was approaching its accession to the EU, the EU invested large sums of money to support the Hungarian boarder guards to decrease illegal migration into Hungary and through Hungary. So, the number of illegal migrants and the number of human smuggling and human trafficking networks has decreased.

"Hungary is indeed not seen anymore as a transit country. People who come here actually do intend to stay here. UNHCR is concerned that this decrease might actually result in the fact that not only illegal migrants are excluded from the territory of Hungary but that also genuine refugees are excluded. So, it could be a case where the borders are sealed off to allow neither illegal migrants nor genuine refugees access to the territory of Hungary. UNHCR certainly hopes that this is not the case and we are keeping very close contact with the Hungarian border guard and the government to make sure that refugees are not returned at the border and that they are allowed to enter and that their refugee asylum applications are handled in an appropriate manner."