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Hungary and Austria spar over the release of human traffickers

May 24th, 2023

As Hungary releases hundreds of foreigners convicted for human trafficking, a liberal and a conservative observer ponder whether the government’s decision was the right one – politically and juridically.

Under a government decree, several hundred foreign prisoners condemned for human trafficking are being expelled from Hungary because the government doesn’t intend to cover the cost of their detention any longer. The Hungarian ambassador to Vienna was summoned to the Austrian Foreign Ministry to protest and the Austrian authorities introduced border controls to screen travellers arriving from Hungary. The Austrian press puts the number of traffickers released at 2000, but that would correspond to the total number sentenced by courts in Hungary.

On HÍR TV, former liberal party chair Gábor Fodor condemned the decree as in violation of the separation of powers. He found the explanation that the cost of the detention of the traffickers was too high juridically irrelevant. He also thought releasing human traffickers was morally unjustified as Hungarians who committed the same or much lighter crimes continue to languish in jail.

In the same programme, Mandiner journalist Mátyás Kohán admits that he is in two minds about the juridical foundations of the decree. He explains it, however, in political terms. Hungary has been covering the enormous cost of protecting the outer borders of the European Union against unlawful mass immigration as well as of keeping an ever-increasing number of human traffickers in jail. While Hungary is repeatedly forced to pay compensation to some of those inmates for the unsatisfactory conditions of their detention, the European Union refuses to contribute to the vast expenses of Hungary’s fight against unlawful immigration and human trafficking. He believes the release of the traffickers was a response to that refusal.

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