Rough sleeping outlawed in Hungary as new law comes into force

Rough sleeping in Hungary will be banned from Monday when the government’s law on homelessness comes into force, with the police given the power to remove homeless people from the streets and destroy any shelters they might have built.

The law, banning “habitual residence in a public space”, was passed by parliament in June and has been called “cruel” by critics. Under legislation passed in 2013, being homeless was punishable with a fine.

The crackdown “serves the interests of society as a whole”, social affairs state secretary Attila Fulop told reporters last week. Its goal is “to ensure that homeless people are not on the streets at night-time and that citizens can make use of public space unimpeded”.

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Experts say Hungary has at least 20,000 people sleeping rough with only an estimated 11,000 places in state-run shelters.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government said it is increasing funding for homeless provision but international organisations and Hungarian rights groups have condemned the new law.

In June, UN housing expert Leilani Farha called it “cruel and incompatible with international human rights law”.

Last month, the European Parliament voted to start legal action against the government in Hungary after an MEP’s report said, among other things, that Hungary’s treatment of its homeless contributed to a “clear risk of a serious breach” of EU values.

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