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Hungary's 'appalling' treatment of asylum-seekers condemned

‘When I came, I thought, Hungary is Europe, maybe it will be OK. But I realise that they hate us here’ - Afghan asylum-seeker

60% of 1,200 registered asylum-seekers in Hungary in detention

‘Prime Minister Orbán has replaced the rule of law with the rule of fear’ - John Dalhuisen

In Hungary thousands of asylum-seekers - including unaccompanied children - are suffering violent abuse, illegal “push backs” and unlawful detention, Amnesty International said in a new report today (27 September).

The 30-page report, Stranded hope: Hungary’s sustained attack on the rights of refugees and migrants, published against the backdrop of a toxic referendum campaign in Hungary on refugee quotas, shows that hundreds of asylum-seekers are left waiting for months in degrading conditions in the country. Many of those who manage to get into Hungary are pushed back to Serbia or detained unlawfully in detention centres.

The report - based on research conducted in Serbia, Hungary and Austria and interviews with 143 people, the vast majority of whom were refugees and migrants - reveals shocking conditions facing those who attempt to enter and travel through Hungary, a country where irregular entries have been criminalised and the right to seek asylum is extremely restricted.

In September last year Hungary finished the construction of a vast fence along its border with Serbia (extended later to Croatia) and passed a law to fast-track asylum claims. “Transit zones” - metal containers for processing claims and detaining admitted asylum-seekers - were opened at two border crossings. In total only 30 people are admitted to these zones to seek asylum each day, leaving hundreds to languish in degrading conditions on the border or in overcrowded centres in Serbia. At the time of Amnesty’s visit to the Hungarian-Serbian border, more than 600 people were staying in makeshift camps, many for months on end.

One asylum-seeker at Horgoš camp whose elderly wife had to be carried for much of the journey from Afghanistan, told Amnesty: “We’ve been here for 22 days and it’s not like we are crossing tomorrow.” Another asylum-seeker who had been at the same camp for 18 days said: “We run from war, we run from pain. So why do people at the border treat us like animals?”

Last December the scale of the suffering of refugees and asylum-seekers at Hungary’s borders and in-country, and the country’s new asylum legislation triggered the opening of an infringement procedure by the European Commission.

Amnesty International’s Europe Director John Dalhuisen said:

“Prime Minister Orbán has replaced the rule of law with the rule of fear.

“Rather than being shamed by the exposure of Hungary’s flagrant breaches of international law, Prime Minister Orbán proudly extols them as an example for other countries to follow.

“His attempts to deliberately prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Hungary have been accompanied by an ever more disturbing pattern of attacks on them and the international safeguards designed to protect them.

“Appalling treatment and labyrinthine asylum procedures are a cynical ploy to deter asylum-seekers from Hungary’s ever more militarised borders. Against the backdrop of a toxic referendum campaign, poisonous anti-refugee rhetoric is reaching fever pitch.”

Violent ‘push-backs’

With the formal asylum process extremely restricted, some asylum-seekers have attempted to cross the border irregularly into Hungary. A law, passed in June, allows the Hungarian authorities to immediately return to Serbia asylum-seekers found up to five miles from the border fence in Hungarian territory. Those apprehended are unlawfully “pushed back” without any consideration of their needs for protection or particular vulnerabilities. Since this new law has been in place, official statistics suggest the push-back practice has largely replaced the formal criminal procedures for irregular entry into the country.

Some of those interviewed told Amnesty that excessive force was used during these push-backs, with asylum-seekers being beaten, kicked and chased by dogs. One asylum-seeker witnessed police beating a man whom they picked up over the border. They were warned by a policeman: “We can do anything, if you complain no one will listen to you.”

Beatings in detention

Inside the transit zones, men travelling without family often find themselves detained unlawfully for periods of up to four weeks. Most of these men have their asylum applications declared inadmissible on the grounds that they came through Serbia, a “safe third country”. As Serbia does not formally take them back and does not provide access to a fair and individualised asylum process, those pushed back from the transit zones have little other option than to attempt a different route to the EU.

Asylum-seekers who pass through the “transit zones” successfully are taken to either closed or open asylum accommodation centres where conditions are dire. The centres lack basic services, barely providing education and activities for children or healthcare. Amnesty also found evidence that some unaccompanied children are housed with adult men.  A lack of translators and a lengthy, complex asylum process create often insurmountable obstacles to asylum claims. 

Detention is routine and at the time of the research almost 60% of the 1,200 registered asylum-seekers in Hungary were in detention. One Afghan asylum-seeker told Amnesty: “When I came, I thought, Hungary is Europe, maybe it will be OK. But I realise that they hate us here.”

Despite repeated requests, Amnesty was not allowed to visit Kiskunhalas asylum detention centre. However, Amnesty interviewed several former detainees who reported beatings and threats of violence by the police and security guards there. One Afghan asylum-seeker told Amnesty that he knew of around 30 people who were beaten during the four months he was held there. A Palestinian asylum-seeker who was beaten in Kiskunhalas said: “The police and security guards know there are lots of cameras, so they push you away to a place where this can’t be seen.”

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