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Hungary: New Law Permits Army’s Use of Non-Lethal Weapons Against Illegal Migrants

(Nov. 6, 2015) On September 21, 2015, the National Assembly of Hungary approved legislation that allows the country’s military to use non-lethal weapons against refugees when they enter Hungary illegally (Jacqueline Jones, Hungary Lawmakers Approve Use of Non-Lethal Weapons on Refugees, PAPER CHASE (Sept. 23, 2015).) Soldiers may use rubber bullets, tear gas, pyrotechnical devices, and net guns, among other weapons, to impose control at the borders. (Gianluca Mezzofiore, Migrant Crisis: Hungary Approves Use of Army, Rubber Bullets and Tear Gas Against Refugees, IBTIMES (Sept. 21, 2015).) The army also is authorized under the new provisions to help police check passports in order to control the influx of migrants and detain suspects. (Jones, supra.)

The law amends the Police Act and the National Defense Act, in order to allow the deployment of troops along Hungary’s border, and sets forth the rights and duties of soldiers and police officers in crisis situations. In regard to the police, it states that they may take such actions as blocking traffic, if necessary as an emergency measure, and entering private homes with a written order. They may also, in cooperation with security agencies, carry out intelligence activities to detect possible terrorism-related offenses, including human trafficking, when these offenses are related to endangering the state border. (Dull Szabolcs, Decided by Parliament: The Army Will Be Deployed at the Border, INDEX (Sept. 21, 2015) (in Hungarian); Text of the legislation on mass migration, Hungarian National Assembly website (Sept. 21, 2015) (in Hungarian).)

The legislation passed with 151 votes in favor, 12 opposed, and 27 abstentions in the 199-member Parliament. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose Fidesz Party supported the measure, was quoted as saying that “Eastern European nations have to protect themselves from the ‘brutal threat’ of mass migration into their countries, until the EU organises a communitarian response to the refugee crisis,” asserting “[t]he migrants are not just banging on our door: they’re breaking it down.” (Mezzofiore, supra.)

On September 4, 2015, the National Assembly had introduced a number of other emergency measures to deal with the mass migration crisis in Hungary. The legislation declared a state of emergency in Hungary; established new border “transit zones” to hold asylum seekers pending the processing of their applications; laid down strict punishments, including imprisonment, for migrants who violate its provisions; and mandated criminal punishment for those who attempt to cross or damage the new razor wire, 110-mile fence built on the border of Hungary and Serbia, with individuals caught climbing over the fence subject to a prison term of up to three years. (Bradley McAllister, Hungary Lawmakers Approve Emergency Laws to Address Migration Crisis, PAPER CHASE (Sept. 5, 2015); Hungarian Parliament Introduces Emergency Anti-Migration Laws, AFP (Sept. 4, 2015).)