The HHC’s family reunification activities and challenges in the COVID-19 era
Everyone’s right to family life and family unity regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or any other status has long been recognised in international human rights law, international refugee law and EU law. When people flee their countries due to wars, persecution, and serious human rights violations, they may become separated from their families. After they obtain refugee status or subsidiary protection in Hungary, the only way they can live with their families again is by reuniting through a family reunification procedure.
Helping refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection reunite with their families living abroad is important because it ensures the respect of their right to family life and increases their chances for integration. Family reintegration also prevents the refugees and their families from enduring the huge unnecessary suffering caused by long periods of separation.
For more than 20 years, the HHC has been the only NGO in Hungary that provides free legal assistance, representation and accessible information to foreigners in need of international protection. In the past decade alone, the HHC’s Refugee Programme has provided these services to over 14,000 asylum-seekers, refugees, and other persons in need of international protection. We have helped them obtain refugee status, subsidiary protection or tolerated stay; thus giving them hope for a safe, new life in Hungary.
In particular, we have helped hundreds of persons to lawfully and safely join their family members living with refugee status or subsidiary protection in Hungary. Beyond providing information, representing individual cases and strategic litigation, the HHC has also proactively advocated for a more effective, flexible and humane family reunification policy for persons who have been granted international protection in Hungary.
Since 2015, the Hungarian State has increasingly obstructed access to international protection by deliberately dismantling the asylum system. The Government has also eliminated all integration assistance for migrants and refugees. Against this challenging operational context, the HHC has still managed to help thousands of refugees (mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.) find protection, and assisted many of them to reunite with their families in Hungary. Without our services, applicants for refugee status or family reunification would be left without adequate legal guidance or support.
Despite COVID-related challenges, we have continued to help reunite families in 2020. Some of the much-needed measures implemented to prevent the spread of the virus have adversely affected family reunification. Delays in family reunification procedures, travel bans, and partial or complete loss of jobs by the sponsors (the refugees living in Hungary who seek to be reunited with family abroad) have all raised enormous obstacles for families to be reunited in Hungary. In order to continue helping them, we gave adapted to these challenges, provided assistance within our scope of mandate, and when necessary, referred the sponsors to other Hungarian service providers.