Independent United Nations human rights experts have issued a joint call for Hungary to change a recent law that criminalizes homelessness. The new law was proposed by members of Hungary’s conservative ruling Fidesz party and came into force in December; under it, those who are homeless can be fined up to around $600.
Some 30,000 to 35,000 are estimated to be homeless in Hungary, with the capital, Budapest, said to have about 8,000 people living on the streets including women, children, older people and individuals with disabilities. The city only has about 5,500 places in public shelters with most of these providing “dormitory-style accommodations” with 50 people sleeping in one room.
Last year, hundreds of people were forced from underpasses in Budapest and arrested after the city passed a law that made “habitual residence in public spaces” a criminal act. The government has said that Budapest simply could not cope with the numbers of people living in the streets.
Advocates for the homeless in Hungary, as well as the country’s human rights ombudsman, have harshly criticized the law. According to the BBC, Miklos Vecsei, deputy head of the Hungarian Maltese Charity Service, has said that “the law had not been passed on the basis of any rational or professional criteria but because the public were fed up with the homeless.” Rather than banning “deep poverty,” a solution — a real solution, not penalizing people already in need and deeply suffering — needs to be found.
At the UN, Magdalena Sepúlveda, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and Raquel Rolnik, the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, condemned Hungary’s law. Mate Kocsis, a member of the country’s Parliament from the ruling Fidesz party and a district mayor in the city, introduced the law; he can be seen in this video which also shows one homeless woman, Julianna Szvett, who has made a shelter for herself in a cave.
Said Sepúlveda and Rolnik in a joint statement:
“By a wave of the legislative pen, the Hungarian Parliament has labelled tens of thousands of homeless people in Hungary as potential criminals. Moreover, the law has a discriminatory impact on those living in poverty.”
Sepúlveda and Rolnik have requested that public funds should not be used to prosecute and penalize those who are homeless but to help them.
The global economic crisis is one reason that more Hungarian families have been forced on the streets. Sepúlveda and Rolnikalso underscored that, especially due to the extreme cold in Europe in the past few weeks, “States have an increased obligation to provide shelter to those in need.” Indeed they do: By criminalizing homelessness, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government is only creating even more problems down the road.
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