THE APRIL 1ST LAWS
as many of you know, part of my job in budapest as a global missions intern is to work with the refugee ministry of the reformed church in hungary — specifically, i work with the ministry’s NGO offshoot: the kalunba social services association. recent legal changes here in hungary have made the vital work they do even harder, and i felt called to share a bit about this with you all.
leaving home is hard – the journey to hungary is dangerous and, when people arrive, the applications for asylum are complicated and drawn out. for those lucky enough to be granted asylum status, the hard work of starting a new life then begins: learning hungarian, finding a home, gaining employment, and more. recently, however, the hungarian government proposed amendments to the migration and asylum law in order to make the plight of those seeking refuge even more difficult.
the changes in asylum legislation officially took effect on april 1st, 2016 and will affect all those who gain status in hungary after this day (though the laws are also quite vague and say that some sections may be applied retroactively to those who gained status before the first of april). the law affects everything from the dimensions of a holding cell in a detention center that migrants are entitled to (32 square feet for men and 38 square feet for women), the length of refugee status that those seeking protection can receive (down to three years from the previous five), and even the amount of integration support that is given from the government (which is now zero).
the government has implemented these changes under a populist claim that refugees should not get any more support than native hungarians, and so they should receive the same treatment and use the same services. the biggest blow to the important work that that kalunba does revolves around the newfound lack of integration support. under this new legislation, a multitude of things have changed: people seeking protection will no longer be allowed to work while they are waiting in refugee camps, the current governmental integration support network (including a monthly stipend) is cancelled, and the office for immigration and nationality can now retroactively request money back that refugees have already received from the state (though we desperately hope that they will not do this).
this is an emergency situation for kalunba and the vulnerable population that it serves for two reasons. firstly, the lives of kalunba’s new clientele are now endangered due to a lack of funds – they no longer have access to healthy foods, basic toiletries, or even money for rent. secondly, the vital ministry and services that the NGO provides are now endangered because people cannot take advantage of the services owing to all the extra time and hours they must work at meager jobs in order to make ends meet. the average monthly stipend of 40,000 forints (approximately $146USD) will end for those given status in hungary after april first (when the law takes effect), but the exact date for this stipend issue to be implemented is still up for debate. the government has not set a hard date for this, as of yet, and so many officials are using their own discretion; when kalunba associates visited a camp in bicske back in march, those in charge had already halted camp stipends in anticipation of the coming legislation – despite the fact that those seeking refuge there should have gotten another months worth of monetary support.
this monthly stipend that recognized refugees received covered vital things such as food and clothing for their family, as well as the utility bills for their housing in the city. these are critical daily needs that are now no longer being met for those who have arrived in hungary after april 1st, 2016 that kalunba is serving. to make matters worse,the cost of home rentals in budapest is on the rise, stretching the kalunba budget as they struggle to cover housing costs for those who have just arrived.
these recent legislative changes are just the next in line from a long chain of initiatives put in place by the fidesz government, led by viktor orban, in order to spread a message and atmosphere of xenophobia. the new april 1st laws pose an immediate threat not only to the vital work being done by kalunba, but also to those seeking refugee status in hungary. if nothing is done to combat the harmful effects of this new legislation then more people than ever will fall through the ever widening cracks in the hungarian social services system, and we at kalunba cannot let that happen.
you can read much more about the april laws in this wonderful blog post written by migszol, a migrant solidarity group in hungary.
if you feel inclined to donate to this important cause, you can make an online contribution through global ministries here and specify that the gift is designated for the middle east & europe, and to the specific partner of the refugee ministry (kalunba) of the reformed church in hungary.