Due to their experienced and dynamic staff, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) was one of the best placed organizations to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. In 2015, when thousands of refugees were transiting through Hungary, Hungarians turned out en masse to provide food, clothing, rides, and shelter. However, from 2015-2017, the Hungarian government willingly dismantled Hungary’s asylum system and ran a national campaign stoking the fears of refugees. There was a need to concretely impact refugee lives, as well as break through xenophobic rhetoric.
UUSC partnered with the HHC on their family reunification program and accompanying advocacy campaign. The program provides legal advice and representation to those who have obtained asylum in Hungary and are now seeking to reunite with their families. The campaign received significant media coverage, and the stories of reunification are a small mark of hope in an increasingly repressive political climate.
HHC has also come under attack as part of a broader campaign against civil society and rule of law. On World Refugee Day, the Hungarian government passed a law which threatens to imprison those who assist refugees and asylum seekers.
“The latest proposals came … amidst a wider effort to stigmatize specific individuals and non-governmental organizations, and has been presented as a bid to stop migration’, to ‘strengthen the protection of borders’ and to ‘protect Hungary’s national security interests’.” – Aniko Bakonyi, Advocacy and Project Manager, HHC
Despite these measures, HHC remains steadfast in their commitment to human rights, including the right to seek asylum. UUSC is proud to partner with this extraordinary organization during these challenging times.
Following are stories from refugees who have received legal assistance from HHC:
- Khaled is a recognized refugee from Syria who had to flee his country in 2014. Once he received his status in Hungary, he immediately sought to reunite with his wife, who was still in danger in Aleppo. His wife, Layal, had to travel to Beirut to submit her application and then return to Aleppo to wait. Her application was rejected based on the fact that they failed to register their marriage at a population registry office, which was not functioning due to the civil war. The only proof of their marriage was a document from a court authenticated by the Syrian authorities. The HHC took the case to court, which ruled in favor of Layal and stated that their religious marriage has to be considered equal to civil law marriages.
- Sara was recognized as a refugee in January 2016. Her daughter, who was 15 at that time, remained in Ethiopia and was waiting to reunite with her family. Sara’s husband arrived in Hungary nine years earlier and already acquired Hungarian citizenship. Despite that fact, the authorities rejected the claim for family unification. HHC represented first the father and then the mother in the family unification case. It was only after the court annulled the asylum authority’s decision, that the daughter arrived in April 2017. HHC provided legal assistance and travel expenses to reunite Sara with her daughter.