In his op-ed, published on 28 September 2016 in the New York Times, the Commissioner criticised Hungary’s approach on migration, including its smear campaigns against refugees which were intensified in the run-up to the country’s October 2016 referendum on EU refugee relocation quotas. “Over the last year, sweeping legislative changes have made it virtually impossible for migrants to achieve refugee status in the country, weakened asylum safeguards and unjustifiably criminalised immigrants and asylum-seekers,” stressed Commissioner Muižnieks in his op-ed. He also expressed serious concerns about possible human rights violations in the context of the recruitment by the Hungarian police of an additional 3,000 members for what are officially called “border hunter action units,” which focus on patrolling the borders. The Commissioner stressed that the protection of refugees has always been an integral part of the human rights project, both in Europe and worldwide, referring to the international solidarity movement that helped about 200,000 Hungarians find refuge abroad from the Soviet Union’s brutal repression of the Hungarian revolution nearly 60 years ago. He emphasised that the spirit of solidarity still lies at the heart of European integration, arguing that it is our best remedy for the anti-democratic and destructive forces of nationalism that have caused so much harm in the past.
On 5 October 2016 the Commissioner published his report on Croatia focusing, among other issues, on migration and asylum. He commended the authorities’ humanitarian approach to dealing with migrants, including asylum-seekers who transited through the country in 2015 and 2016, and the important positive role played in this context by the Ombudsman and civil society. However, the Commissioner recommended that the legal safeguards which apply to migrants not be weakened. In this context, he stressed the importance of deleting the provisions in the draft Aliens Law which would criminalise social and humanitarian assistance to irregular migrants and which would oblige migrant detainees subject to deportation to pay for their accommodation and removal. The Commissioner also called on the authorities to fully implement the recommendations of the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA), in particular those relating to the protection of unaccompanied migrant children. He also recommended that the authorities remove the many obstacles to migrant integration in the country.