Hungary Releases Convicted Smugglers From Overcrowded Prisons

Hungary releases smugglers from prisons

Hungary has released hundreds of foreign prisoners convicted of smuggling people out of its prisons. Many had previously been sentenced to several years in prison, having often transported people through dangerous means. On the Balkan route, which also passes through Hungary, there are frequent deaths and injuries.

Initially, it was rumored that several thousand inmates would suddenly be released. The last known number was 700, who have now indeed been released. In total, around 2,600 foreign citizens are currently imprisoned in Hungarian prisons, the vast majority of whom were convicted of smuggling. Many of them were asking themselves in a chain of phone calls: “Am I among them?”

Perpetrators of the refrigerated truck catastrophe remain in prison

The smugglers responsible for the death of 71 migrants in a refrigerated truck are likely to have asked themselves this question as well. The truck was discovered eight years ago on a highway in Austria en route to Germany. The perpetrators were sentenced to life imprisonment, not only for smuggling but also for murder. However, contrary to initial assumptions, they will remain in prison: the release decree issued by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban specifies a maximum sentence of five years.

Prisoners are too expensive for Hungary

The release action is interesting because it does not seem to fit Hungary’s otherwise tough stance on smuggling. It is not an amnesty, but a political decision – also against the EU.

The reason given by Orban’s “Chancellor’s Minister” Gergely Gulyas is that the convicted prisoners are too expensive for Hungary. “The prisons are overcrowded – and there are trials against us in Strasbourg – that we should continue to spend money on these prisoners. Releasing them is the right decision so that we don’t continue to feed several hundred people smugglers with Hungarian prison fare at the expense of Hungarian taxpayers,” Gulyas said.

Released with almost no conditions

What Gulyas alludes to are lawsuits against Hungary for inhumane conditions in its prisons. In individual cases, Budapest had to pay compensation. In addition, there are concerns in the EU about deporting criminals to countries such as Afghanistan or Iran.

The inmates in Hungarian prisons are said to come from 73 countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Tunisia, as well as European countries such as Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, or Bulgaria. Many of them could be deported back to their home countries.

Now, however, the smugglers are apparently being released in small groups. The only condition: leaving Hungary within 72 hours. They will not have to serve out their remaining sentences in their home countries.

Austria’s Interior Minister is concerned

Andras Nemeny is the mayor of the city of Szombathely, near the Austrian border. Criminals have also been released early in his town. He is worried: “It’s not good at all that the criminals are now moving freely in the city. And it’s not insignificant what they do here in the 72 hours. It’s a problem.”

Austria’s Interior Minister Gerhard Karner is also concerned. He normally maintains close cooperation with Hungary’s authorities, but he was apparently surprised here as well. Karner calls for clarification to prepare for “possible countermeasures” – and emphasizes that Hungary is releasing criminals who endanger people’s lives with their “brutal actions.”