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State of emergency in Hungary

Amid coronavirus pandemic, on 11th March, 2020, the Government of Hungary declared the state of emergency , what empowers the government to adopt decisions that deviate from the legislation and provide only measures that are necessary to fight the COVID-19 outbreak. On 30 March 2020, the Hungarian Parliament adopted a “coronavirus law” and empowered the government to continue its emergency operation for an undetermined period.

Access to asylum 
Restrictive measure have a direct impact on third-country nationals. Hungary closed its borders what meant that no foreign citizens can enter the country, except for EEA citizens holding a permanent residence card. In duly justified exceptional circumstances, the deputy chief of Police may authorise the entry of other foreigners. (During the pandemic, the government introduced other exceptions e.g. for transit passengers , seasonal agricultural workers  and for representatives of enterprises from specific countries visiting their related enterprises in Hungary ). The nationwide lockdown put under the question the right to asylum procedure. Referring to the possibility of mass arrivals along the Balkan route, authorities suspended the access to border transit areas at the Hungarian-Serbian border for asylum seekers. As an excuse the government invoked the emergency need to protect the national health security and guarantee ''the safety of the 321 people, who remain in the transit zone'' . (It has to be noted that according to the information of NGOs, the transit zones were closed, i.e. applications for international protection could not be lodged there even before the pandemic.)

Human rights organizations alarmed about violations of human rights at the border, where people were confined in the transit zones, in prison-like conditions. On 14 May 2020, the Court of Justice of the European Union published its judgment concerning the transit zones and classified accommodation of asylum seekers in the Röszke transit zone at the Hungarian-Serbian border as “unlawful detention” .During the night of 20 May 2020, the authorities evacuated the transit zones and asylum applicants were transferred to reception facilities, rejected asylum applicants in aliens policing detention were placed in detention centres.

Quarantine measures 
Strict rules apply on epidemiological control, surveillance, isolation that everyone must adhere to. Foreigners who do not comply with the epidemiological regulations may be expelled and deported. There are known cases, when 13 Iranian nationals requested the judicial review of such decisions as – according to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee who provides legal support to one of the Iranian nationals – the documents the authorities presented were contradictory and incomplete. The 13 Iranian students were expelled and removed from Hungary.

Extension of documents
The government announced the automatic extension of the validity of the identity documents that would expire during the state of emergency (ID card, address card, driving licences) up to 15 days after the state of emergency will be lifted. Nevertheless, these rules refer to Hungarian nationals (and EEA nationals holding a permanent residence card) only. It remains unclear if they would be applicable to beneficiaries of international protection who – according the Hungarian legislation  – should in general benefit from the same rights as Hungarian nationals. Concerning other groups of foreigners holding Hungarian identity documents , the government office confirmed that they still need to renew their documents if they expire, even during the state of emergency.

Despite the initial position of the Directorate General for Aliens Policing , as from 4 April, an amendment to the legislation on the state of emergency provides that the residence documents (residence permits, permanent residence permits), should they expire during the state of emergency, they would be still valid until 45 days after the lifting of the state of emergency.

The legislation in force provides that the screening, medical examination, quarantine, emergency care and treatment for COVID-19 shall be provided also to those (including foreigners residing in Hungary) who do not have health insurance in Hungary.

Vivien Vadasi

Kseniya Homel
The European and Migration Policy Programme
Institute of Public Affairs