Hungary plans to cut subsidies, space for refugees

Migrants rest as a policeman watches them near Hungary's border fence on the Serbian side of the border near Morahalom, Hungary, February 22, 2016. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary plans to cut subsidies for refugees and radically reduce the space available in migrant detention centers in a move that a human rights body says is aimed at forcing refugees to leave the country. According to draft legislation published by the government on Monday, from April 1 those who were granted some kind of protection or asylum will be allowed to stay in a camp for only one month, instead of two months now. The decree said the maximum space available in holding centers should be identical to that prescribed in prisons. The government, which has imposed hardline policies throughout Europe's migrant crisis, will also eliminate some subsidies, such as funds aimed at supporting education, for those who receive protection. "The main goal of the tightening is to reduce social subsidies for asylum seekers and those who received international protection," the government said, adding that this could help prevent economic migrants seeking asylum in Hungary in the hope for a better life. Last year, just 508 asylum seekers received some kind of protection in Hungary, including asylum, according to data from the immigration office. Hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have crossed through Hungary on their way to western Europe, mainly Germany. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing government erected a steel fence on Hungary's southern borders to keep the migrants out and introduced tough legislation to punish those who tried to cross into Hungary illegally. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a non-governmental human rights watchdog organization, said the new rules would effectively abolish the integration of refugees in Hungary and push them to other countries. "The regulation shows the Hungarian government's intention: no integration help from the state in Hungary," said Marta Pardavi, co-chair for the Helsinki Committee. She said the measure could also serve as a deterrent for people still coming to Hungary, despite the fence. "If these people don't receive any help beyond getting some status (of protection) they ... can only trust the system helping the homeless," she added. After Hungary erected the fence last October, the flow of migrants practically stopped. However, as the weather improved in recent weeks, the number of migrants increased, and more began to cut through the fence despite a heavy police presence. (Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Alison Williams)