Asylum seekers are nothing to be afraid of and with a little help they can integrate very well into society. This is the message of World Refugee Day, which Hungary celebrates for the 4th time this Sunday, on June 20th, at Budapest's Millenary Park. We asked press officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Hungary, Andrea Szobolits about World Refugee Day.
"It is a day that has been celebrated worldwide in more than 150 countries to commemorate refugees, their strength and their endurance, and to give a little bit better picture about refugee issues to the world, than the picture which is generally displayed in the media - the very sad and negative picture. We would like to show that refugees are not faceless people begging for our help but talented and skillful people, who can offer a lot and who actually need just a little bit of help at the initial stage of their integration."
So, what will happen on this day in Hungary?
"We are going to have all kinds of handicraft workshops, games, theatre performances organized for kids. Admission is going to be free of charge. We would really be happy if a lot of Hungarian families join us. Later on, there are going to be two music performances of two refugee bands. One of them is a band headed by a refugee from Madagascar and the other is headed by a refugee from Guinea. Both bands play world music with little touches of jazz and various African musical styles."
With regards to the integration of refugees in Hungary, are there any changes with Hungary's accession to the European Union?
Before Hungary's EU accession the Hungarian legislation on asylum successfully met the European standards. So, in principle, Hungary is equally good in the field of asylum as all other EU member states. But of course there are some further changes to be expected. A regulation came into force at the end of last year that allows very long deadlines for the various authorities to discuss which asylum seekers should perhaps be sent back to other countries. Due to these long deadlines, we haven't really received any requests from western Europe so we don't know how many asylum seekers are going to be sent back home."
What can you say so far about the trends this year?
"Hungary has received unbelievably few refugees compared to the previous years. In a very busy year, in 1999, Hungary recorded 11,500 asylum seekers. Only five years later, in the first quarter of the year, we've only received 367. So, if we multiply this by four, it means that we are unlikely to receive more than1,200 asylum applications, which is about one tenth of the number of people who arrived here five years ago."
One would think that with us in the EU now, we would become a more popular target country for asylum seekers.
"The decrease of the number of asylum seekers is really surprising but it's not only true in case of Hungary but the entire EU, where the average number of asylum seekers has dropped by 18 percent since the first quarter of last year. Europe does not need to be afraid of an immense influx of refugees. The number is decreasing constantly, so hopefully now due to the lower numbers, we will have more energy and money to focus on their integration and more subtle issues."
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