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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Hungary has launched a crackdown on its many homeless people, with thousands facing imminent detention under a new controversial law.
The measures come as homeless Hungarians wake up after sleeping near a garbage dump, hidden between the bushes, somewhere in Budapest.
If it’s up to the government they stay there.
Under a new law cities can ban as many as 50,000 homeless people, including handicapped Hungarians and mothers with children, from any area, such as main streets, touristic World Heritage sites, parks, playgrounds or underpasses.
Those who refuse to move on can be sentenced to forced labor, fined or put in prison.
It makes life a little harder for Csaba at the garbage dump. The bearded man already looks older than the 38 years he has been living on this earth, most of it on streets and in forests.
“I lived in an orphanage because my mother didn’t want me,” he tells a group of American Christians who came to see him and his friends, carrying aid and Bibles. “When I became eighteen, I had to leave the orphanage. Since there was nowhere to go, I ended up here.
A world away in the much warmer, neo-Gothic Parliament building, the Interior Ministry’s State Secretary Károly Kontrát defends the law punishing homelessness.
“We have created 700 shelter places in Budapest,” he explains to legislators.
“We would like to put a roof over every homeless person’s head. While under the previous Socialist government hundreds of homeless froze to death in the streets, in the past year there’s only been one such person, which is of course more than there should be.”
Don’t tell that to Arpád Kardos who has been living on the streets for 20 years.
He says people like him are afraid to go to shelters. “It’s a big mess
there, because people beat you, threaten you and rob you.”
United Nations experts and other critics claim the legislation criminalises homelessness.
To get round a Hungarian top court ruling declaring the law invalid, the governing right-wing Fidesz party used its two-third majority in parliament last week to embed the legislation in the constitution.
It’s seen as part of a wider plan by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to make Hungary look more ‘clean’ and conservatived to the outside world.
Yet rights activists say the government tries to hide the truth about a growing number of homeless people in this economically troubled nation, without searching for real solutions.
(This BosNewsLife News story also airs via Vatican Radio. BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals from especially, but not limited to, (ex)Communist nations and other autocratically ruled states).