Hungary Rushes to Erect Border Fence as Rights Group Decries Law

Hungary’s government pledged to work “at full steam” to complete a razor-wire fence to keep out immigrants, while a human rights group said its laws also provide unreasonable legal barriers to asylum seekers.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban has given the army until Aug. 31 to build the fence, with materials manufactured by prison inmates. As the number of migrants who reached Hungary so this year exceeded 110,000 by Friday, more than twice in all of 2014, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said it’s in the interest of the European Union to physically seal the border fast, national news service MTI reported.

Hungary also introduced amendments to its immigration law from Aug. 1 that allows denying asylum to those arriving via third countries deemed “safe.” As a result, Hungary may violate its obligations not to return people to countries where they have a reason to fear prosecution, said the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a group formed to protect human rights in 1989, which has been providing legal aid to migrants.

“Looking at the provisions, we have discovered that there is a legal fence being built in Hungary to complement the physical one,” Marta Pardavi, co-chair of the Helsinki Committee, told reporters in Budapest on Friday.

Asylum-seekers, who are facing ‘short and unfair’’ procedures in Hungary, are trying to avoid contact with the local authorities and move on “as quietly and as swiftly as possible” toward western Europe, Pardavi said.

A group of migrants cut through the newly built fence on the Serbian border on Thursday night. In response, the ruling Fidesz party decided to submit a bill to mete out “exemplary” punishments to anyone who damages the defenses, parliamentary leader Antal Rogan said in an e-mailed statement.

The construction of the fence is “not a human rights, not a foreign affairs” issue and not aimed against Serbia, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Aug. 1., according to the government’s website. It’s Hungary’s duty to protect its borders and those of the EU, Szijjarto said.

The prime minister’s office didn’t immediately respond to an e-mailed request for further comment on Friday.

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