BUDAPEST - Rough sleeping in Hungary will be banned from Monday after a homelessness law adopted by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government and called "cruel" by critics comes into force.
A constitutional amendment approved by the Budapest parliament on June 20 banned "habitual residence in a public space", beefing up a 2013 law that made it a fineable offence.
With police now empowered to remove rough sleepers from streets and dismantle huts and shacks, a government official said Thursday that the law "serves the interests of society as a whole".
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," Attila Fulop, social affairs state secretary, told reporters.
An estimated 11,000 places exist in state-run shelters but experts say at least 20,000 people are homeless nationwide. The government says it is increasing funding for homeless provision but international organisations and rights groups at home have condemned the new law.
In June, UN housing expert Leilani Farha called it "cruel and incompatible with international human rights law".
"What is this 'crime' (homeless people) have committed? Merely trying to survive," said Farha in an open letter to the government.
Last month, the European Parliament voted to launch legal action against Budapest 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.