(Vatican Radio) The head of the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, says Hungary is deliberately curtailing access refugees to protection. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi made the remarks while the country remembers that it began closing off its borders with Balkan neighbors two years ago to limit the influx of migrants fleeing war, poverty or persecution.
Grandi says he is concerned that Hungary is detaining asylum-seekers in closed centers at the border while they await decisions on their applications and appeals. Many of them, including children, have been held in container camps.
Grandi also condemns the low number of refugees allowed to file asylum claims — five a day at each of two transit zones — as well as what he calls the “very low rate” of approvals.
Hungary accepted just 502 asylum seekers in 2015 and 425 in 2016. Germany took in 890,000 asylum seekers in 2015 and 280,000 in 2016.
Grandi also says that a lack of investment discourages the few refugees allowed to remain to integrate into Hungarian society.
The UN commissioner, who has been touring the border area meeting refugees and government officials this week, concludes that Hungary shows what he calls “a very clear intention” to curtail the access refugees have to protection in the country.
His statement comes while Hungary commemorates this weekend that exactly two years ago it closed off its borders with Serbia to halt the influx
of what it calls "illegal immigrants" and "illegal border crossers."
In 2015 Hungary erected razor-wire fences on its southern borders with Serbia and later Croatia to stem the flow of migrants and refugees.
Additionally, thousands of security forces including feared border hunters were sent to the area. Speaking at the Rozske border crossing near Serbia government spokesman Zoltán Kovács defended these decisions saying: "When Hungary acted in 2015 it did not expect any help, financial or any other contribution. It moved for the sake of security of the European and Hungarian people which was, by the way, our duty."
Hungary's fiercely anti-migration Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s has repeatedly claimed a massive influx of mostly Muslim migrants endangers
The government claims that nearly 400,000 people arrived in Hungary illegally across the green border in 2015, of whom 177,000 submitted requests for asylum. But only 5,000 waited until their asylum proceedings were completed as many sought shelter in more welcoming and prosperous nations.
Hungary says this year a total of 1,200 "illegal border entries" were registered.
With the Balkan route now closed, often desperate people are now trying to cross the Black Sea to reach Romania from where they hope to reach
Hungary and eventually Western Europe. Hungary has not yet build anti-migration fences along its border with Romania.
In recent months several trucks packed with men, women, and children have been discovered near the Romanian-Hungarian border.
Elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, people fleeing hardship are also being discovered. On Saturday, German police said they had stopped a truck near the German-Polish border with 51 people squeezed inside, among them 17 children.
Federal police said the truck was stopped early Saturday on the highway A12 near the eastern German town of Muellrose.
(Reporting by Stefan Bos in Budapest)