The Hungarian authorities fall short in their ability to identify potential victims of human trafficking, a Council of Europe (CoE) expert body has said.
Hungary should change rules to better pinpoint and help victims of human trafficking identified among asylum seekers and migrants in the country, the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) said in a report published on Friday.
Previous concerns about Hungary’s treatment of victims of human trafficking “have been magnified by the repeated introduction of more restrictive legislation and measures regarding immigration and asylum in Hungary”, the report said, citing the findings of the body’s experts who visited the transit zones in Röszke and Tompa on the Serbian border between December 18 and 20, 2017.
“GRETA notes with concern that material conditions in the transit zones are not conducive to creating an atmosphere of trust which would make it possible for victims of trafficking to come forward,” the report says, citing the lack of private space to consult with lawyers or doctors and the lack of information provided to asylum seekers on their rights.
Children between 14 and 17 years of age “may be particularly vulnerable because they are treated as adults, despite their minority,”
the report says, referring to the fact that unaccompanied children of that age are housed in the transit zones with the adults, and raising concerns about the communication with “ad hoc guardians” appointed for them.
GRETA works to establish whether signatories comply with the CoE’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. It conducted an assessment of the Hungarian situation in 2015.
The expert body cited reports by UNHCR Serbia, saying that “the number of collective expulsions from Hungary to Serbia amounted to 79 in the period from 11 December to 24 December 2017”. The report noted that “collective expulsions negatively affect the detection of victims of . trafficking . and raise grave concerns as regards Hungary’s compliance with certain obligations of the Convention”.
The report also expressed concerns about training for transit zone employees to identify victims of human trafficking in the transit zones. “Most of the staff working in the transit zones who were interviewed by the GRETA delegation were unable to provide a clear explanation as to what procedures would be followed or who were the competent authorities to take decisions on victim identification and referral.”
The report called on the Hungarian authorities to establish guidelines for the identification of victims of human trafficking and their assistance outside the transit zones.
Hungary should also review procedures assessing the age of asylum seekers and to ensure the protection of children, the report said.
Commenting on the report, the Hungarian interior ministry said its statements regarding collective expulsions were “unfounded”. The ministry also rejected the report’s qualification of transit zones as “effectively a place of deprivation of liberty”, as asylum seekers are free to leave towards Serbia at any time. Thus, the freedom rights of residents are not violated, the ministry said. The government has no official information regarding the “waiting lists” mentioned in the report, and it rejects the claims that psychological treatment or guardianship services are insufficient, the statement said.