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UNHCR Urges Hungarian Government To Urgently Assist Homeless Refugees
Friday 18, December 2009
Budapest (18 December 2009) - In a dramatic appeal to the Hungarian Government and the Mayor of Budapest, UNHCR requested emergency measures to assist homeless refugees living in the Hungarian capital.
According to findings of the Regional Representation for Central Europe, there are between 20 and 50 persons, mostly of Somali origin in extremely precarious situations, either sleeping rough in the streets or surviving one night at a time at homeless shelters or in the private homes of people who agree to take them in for the night.
"The problem needs to be tackled in two ways," says UNHCR's Regional Representative, Gottfried Köfner. "First we need an immediate solution for refugees in Hungary as temperatures are dropping below zero. Secondly, the government has to look at the structural shortcomings of an integration system that leaves refugees in such distress, with no effective opportunity to find a job, a house or live in dignity in Hungary."
Köfner wrote letters to the Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, to Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky and to Ms. Zsuzsanna Végh, Director General at the Office of Immigration and Nationality, urging them to stop evictions from refugee facilities in winter and to establish an emergency task force that will resolve the housing crisis faced by refugees in Hungary.
The problem of homelessness among mostly Somalis with refugee status in Hungary transpired when UNHCR recently carried out its annual assessment of living conditions among refugees and asylum seekers. This assessment is part of UNHCR's global Age Gender and Diversity Mainstreaming and was conducted for the fifth consecutive year in Central Europe.
According to UNHCR findings, there are between 20 and 50 recognised refugees in Hungary stranded without proper housing, sleeping at times in the street or finding temporary shelters. They do not have enough food and many of them have unresolved health issues. The lack of knowledge of the Hungarian language leaves them without a possibility to find proper jobs. They are extremely vulnerable to harassment, racist attacks and, in the case of several women, sexual exploitation.
The homeless refugees have similar stories to tell: They usually have protection status and were placed for a while in a pre-integration facility in Bicske close to Budapest. They did not receive enough language classes or counselling that would enable them to find housing and jobs. They also learned that there is no possibility to bring their families. So, in the absence of any opportunity to become independent or to reunite with their loved ones in Hungary they decided to move to other EU Member States as part of a survival strategy.
As soon they get in touch with the authorities in the new country, many of these refugees are deported back to Hungary as it is the country responsible for providing them with international protection. Upon return, many have forfeited the right to the limited integration assistance available in Hungary and end up living on charity and sometimes in the streets until their application for some EUR 100 social assistance per month is processed.
"Even those refugees who never left Bicske are evicted after a year, whether they have a place to stay or not. At this time of the year this is potentially life threatening and we are asking the authorities to stop this practice," says Köfner. In contrast, a moratorium on evictions during winter months is in place for Hungarian citizens.
The Regional Representative for Central Europe says that it will not suffice to help homeless refugees survive the winter. "We have offered our expertise to the Hungarian Government for developing an integration system that refugees do not fall through the cracks but are assisted in becoming independent and contributing to the Hungarian economy and culture", says Köfner.
By Melita H. Šunjić