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A new regulation passed in Hungary makes homelessness punishable by a fine of nearly £400, or a spell in prison.
Some 10,000 people are thought to be homeless in the country’s capital, Budapest.
The regulation was proposed by Hungary’s leading conservative party, on the grounds that Budapest could no longer cope with the large numbers of people sleeping rough.
The new law, passed by a strong majority in parliament in December 2011, means that those found sleeping on the streets will first receive a warning, before facing imprisonment or a fine. The move has provoked widespread criticism. Critics, who include Hungary’s human rights ombudsman and charities for the homeless, argue that Budapest’s hostels cannot cope with the number of rough sleepers in the city.
Miklos Vecsei, a spokesman from the Hungarian Maltese Charity Services, said that the law is not based on professional research, but has been passed because the public are fed up with the homeless. Budapest has been stretched to its limits, but the city’s poverty needs to be alleviated, not punished, Vecsei said.
The MP who drafted the law has pointed to new hostel projects and argues that local councils will take responsibility for tackling homelessness.
However, Hungarian charities claim that, even with these council schemes in place, up to 3,000 rough sleepers will be left without shelter.
The controversial new law has sparked a wave of demonstrations, including a series of sit-in protests.