The far-right Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban is what can be described as a hard-liner when it comes to the refugee crisis. He is a leader who believes that the influx of refugees from Africa and the Middle East are a threat to tradition European culture. Indeed, Orban has previously described refugees as looking like an invading army, and as such Europe needs to firmly act to keep out these people. Orban is not alone in Hungary when it comes to intolerant approaches to refugees, and this is most evident by a recent piece of legislation that will mandate that new refugee camps will be built out of shipping containers.
Orban’s far-right Jobbik party has decided to treat refugees as nothing more than freight, in a move that the United Nations and human rights groups have condemned. According to Amnesty International the decision by the party is a “flagrant violation of international law”. This is correct as refugees and asylum-seekers are protected under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the subsequent 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, both which have been signed by Hungary.
These UN provisions protect against ‘refoulement’, which is when a refugee is purposefully returned to their country of origin despite the authorities being aware that this will result in persecution. However another part of these treaties, which again Hungary has signed up to, is “freedom from torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know if Jobbik’s proposal legally qualifies as a form of torture, but I am convinced that making refugees live in shipping containers counts as “inhuman and degrading treatment”.
Shipping containers are not suitable housing for a number of reasons but there key ones are in relation to ventilation and heat. Because shipping containers are a closed space, there is little or no ventilation making the ability of refugees to breathe somewhat difficult. In terms of heat, shipping containers are made of steel. Prolonged periods in the sun can increase the temperature of this metal to such a point where the inside is incubated like an oven. You don’t need to be a human rights lawyer to know that this is inhuman.
Although the blame for this horrific policy lies solely with Orban’s party, there has been little international pressure on the Hungarian government when it comes to their approach to refugees. The European Union’s inaction in relation to the Refugee Crisis has been shameful. Individual member states like Germany have been commendable, but others like the UK and Poland have been appalling. The EU had set up refugee quotas for member states but these were no compulsory and as such hundreds of thousands have been left abandoned.
But again the problem is not only European. Russia, China, the US, Canada and many other countries have the space and resources to rehouse all those fleeing Africa and the Middle East but each state has taken the political decision not to act. People who are running from some of the worst situations on the planet are being turned away on racial, ethnic, and/or religious grounds and these people need our help. This is particularly the case for countries like the US who have been intervening in these areas for decades and are now refusing people entry despite creating the conditions for this exodus of people.
To conclude, Orban’s new policy regarding refugee housing is a violation of international law but, if his rhetoric and record is anything to go by, these criticism will fall on deaf ears. Countries like Hungary should be recognised as having neglected their responsibilities when it comes to refugees and, if necessary, brought up on criminal charges at The Hague.
Irrespective, however, there are countries around the world who could be doing so much more to alleviate the strain on Middle Eastern countries on the front line. Many in the West may now be focusing on other media stories but history will not be kind to those governments that have abandoned these desperate people in this way.