U.N. agency urges Hungary to repeal tightened asylum rules
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has called on Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government to repeal a tightening of the Hungarian asylum system, provisions of which it says could violate international laws.
Hungary shut so-called migrant transit zones on its borders last month, freeing about 300 refugees from prison-like conditions, but also hardened rules, in effect barring future asylum applicants.
The new rules require asylum seekers to submit applications at consulates in neighbouring countries rather than at the Hungarian border.
"This may expose asylum-seekers to the risk of refoulement and ill-treatment which would amount to a violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and other international and regional human rights instruments to which Hungary is a State Party," the UNHCR said in a statement late on Monday.
"Effective access to territory is an essential pre-condition to be able to exercise the right to seek asylum."
A government spokesman said the new rules would provide a possibility for asylum seekers to submit their requests in a regulated manner.
"Illegal migration goes against Hungarian and European Union regulations," the spokesman said in an email. "Therefore, in line with the opinion of the Hungarian people, Hungary will continue to protect the EU's Schengen (agreement on visa-free travel) borders from illegal migration."
The UNHCR urged Orban's government to withdraw the act and bring its asylum system in line with international human rights laws and EU law.
During the peak of Europe's 2015 migration crisis, Orban ordered Hungary's southern border to be sealed, blocking a route for hundreds of thousands of migrants.
Hungary moved to dismantle the migrant transit zones at its southern border after a European court ruling. But human rights groups say the newly tightened rules will make it even harder for refugees to gain asylum in the EU via Hungary.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Kim Coghill and Timothy Heritage)
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