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Dozens of foreigners are stuck at the Budapest airport due to entry ban over coronavirus

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There are approximately sixty foreign nationals stuck at the Budapest airport after having arrived in Hungary but being blocked from leaving the airport due to the entry ban announced by the government announced on Monday. One of them is Guardian's Eastern European correspondent Shaun Walker who lives and works in Hungary. Walker tweeted that he arrived in Budapest on Wednesday night, and soon after, he found himself confined in a small room at the airport he described as a "corona hellbox" with 60 other people (from where he was moved later). They received food and water, and

Walker writes that the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the British Embassy have been helpful, but it seems "the decision lies with the police" due to the ambiguity of the Hungarian decree on the entry ban. 

The journalist complained that no other country he knows turns away permanent residents who pay taxes in this situation. (Walker was eventually released from the airport shortly before 5:00 PM.)

 Federico Fioravanti, an Italian citizen who lives in Hungary, also posted on Facebook about the same situation - according to him, Hungarians could leave the airport without any checks after arriving, but he, as a resident, was blocked from entering and was told to write an email to the police explaining why he requests entry into the country.

Index managed to talk to him over the phone, and Fioravanti told us that they were placed in a small room with 40-50 other people where they all waited for police to come to a decision about their situation.

On Thursday morning, he and approximately 20 other people were escorted over to the airport's departure terminal where the cafés are located, since then, they are waiting for their case to be sorted out there. Nobody explained why they were taken to a different location, or why they took specifically them. They were informed by the authorities that they have two choices: They either leave Hungary on the first flight they can board (no matter where it goes), or they can stay at the airport in the small room where they have been before and wait for authorities to decide what will happen to them, which may take anywhere from 36 to 48 hours.

Fioravanti told Index that he has been trying to call the Italian embassy in Budapest, but nobody answers.

The government decree about the entry ban is fairly straightforward, by the way: It states that only Hungarian citizens are allowed to enter the country, what got many confused was its communication, as even though numerous officials have said that the entry ban would not concern foreigners who are close family members of Hungarian citizens and have residence permits, that exception is missing from the decree. 

The only exception specifically mentioned by the regulation is about EEA citizens with permanent residence in Hungary, who must be "treated equally to Hungarian citizens," meaning they are allowed to enter. For all other cases, the decree authorises the Public Order Director of the Hungarian Police Headquarters to exempt individuals from the entry ban "in cases of exceptional circumstances."

The coronavirus situation in Hungary

Hungary closed borders to all foreigners except for residence permit-holding EEA citizens and spouses and parents of Hungarian citizens on Monday after declaring a state of emergency last Wednesday. This Wednesday, the Prime Minister announced an economic relief program which includes suspending all loan payments in the country until the end of the year. As of Monday morning, universities and schools are closed, education will continue remotely. All events are banned, cafes, restaurants, non-essential stores have to close at 3:00 PM each day (pharmacies, drug stores, grocery stores, tobacco stores, and gas stations can remain open longer). Hospitals in Hungary no longer accept visitors since last Sunday, doctors, medical staff, and public officials require special permits to travel abroad. Last Monday, the government has allocated more than 8 billion Forints (~€24 million) for the coronavirus response. 

During his interview on public radio on Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said "foreigners dragged this disease into the country," and previously, he told European leaders during a teleconference that "there is an obvious link between the coronavirus and illegal immigration." Earlier, the government suspended access to the transit zones on the southern border where asylum-seekers could apply for refugee status.

The first Hungarian citizen to contract Covid-19 was a man who worked on the cruise ship Diamond Princess was confirmed to have the disease at the end of February and was treated in Japan. He reportedly recovered, testing negative last Thursday.

Click here to find all our English coverage about the coronavirus situation in Hungary.

(Cover image:  Sign at the Budapest Airport informing passengers about the coronavirus pandemic. Photo:  MTI / Zoltán Balogh)

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