Civil groups forbidden to distribute food to asylum seekers at border

August 2, 2016

Horgos, 2016. július 26. Éhségsztrájkot folytató migránsok a szerb-magyar határ közelében Horgosnál 2016. július 26-án. Két nappal korábban 130 migráns érkezett gyalog Belgrádból Horgosra, akik közül július 25-én mindössze negyvenen folytattak éhségsztrájkot a tranzitzóna közelében, hogy Magyarország megnyissa a határt elõttük. MTI Fotó: Balogh Zoltán
A group of migrants started a hunger strike at the Hungarian border. Photo: MTI/Balogh Zoltán

Hungarian authorities have forbidden civil groups Oltalom and MigSzol to distribute food and water for asylum seekers waiting to enter the transit zone at Röszke.

There are currently hundreds of asylum seekers camping under dire conditions on no man’s land, a small strip of land between the borders of Hungary and Serbia. They are all waiting to get into the so-called transit zones where Hungarian authorities check their papers and decide whether they are eligible for protection. If not, they are sent back to Serbia. The procedure is incredibly slow: Hungarian authorities are allowing only 15 asylum seekers to enter the transit zones daily. Last week, a group of refugees marching from Belgrade to Röszke threatened a hunger strike in protest of the effective closure of the Hungarian border, but abandoned their plans a few days later.

Until now, asylum seekers, many of them families with small children, could only count on the help of civil groups. Many organizations distributed food and water and provided medical help if needed.  However, on Friday Hungarian and Serbian authorities put an end to the practice, forbidding the activists of Oltalom Karitatív Egyesült and MigSzol from helping asylum seekers at Röszke.

Illegal crossing

According to Hungarian news website Délmagyar.hu,, authorities at the border asked the representatives of Oltalom not to distribute aid to people in need. One of the activists, Éva Iványi, told daily online Délmagyar.hu that they are not completely sure why they were denied the chance to help.

“Authorities told us that in case our food carriers touched Serbian territory, we would commit illegal border crossing,” she said.

Horgos, 2016. július 26. Éhségsztrájkot folytató migránsok a szerb-magyar határ közelében Horgosnál 2016. július 26-án. Két nappal korábban 130 migráns érkezett gyalog Belgrádból Horgosra, akik közül július 25-én mindössze negyvenen folytattak éhségsztrájkot a tranzitzóna közelében, hogy Magyarország megnyissa a határt elõttük. MTI Fotó: Balogh Zoltán
Single men might have to wait more than a month to get into transit zones. Photo: MTI/ Balogh Zoltán

This is not the first time the organization has been denied access to refugees. Headed by Rev. Gábor Iványi, President of Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood, the civil group tried to set up four portable chemical toilets along the border in June, but their plans were hindered by Hungarian authorities.

Informally, civil groups operating in the area were told distributing food at the time of the hunger strike would not be a good idea. Even after the hunger strike was called off, they were not allowed back in.

Délmagyar.hu pointed out that members of UNHCR are still allowed to distribute food to asylum seekers.

Misery as deterrent

Co-chairman of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee Márta Pardavi told Hungarian radio station Klubrádió that Hungarian authorities are probably afraid that free food and water will lure more asylum seekers to the border.

“They think that by ordering civil groups to stop their operations, less people will come,” she said.

Horgos, 2016. július 25. Szerb rendõrök felügyelnek éhségsztrájkot folytató migránsokra a szerb-magyar határ közelében Horgosnál 2016. július 25-én. Az elõzõ napon a helyszínre 130 migráns érkezett gyalog Belgrádból, akik a tranzitzóna közelében éhségsztrájkot folytatva várják, hogy Magyarország megnyissa a határt elõttük. MTI Fotó: Molnár Edvárd
Serbian policemen guarding no man’s land. Photo: MTI/Molnár Edvárd

Pardavi added that without the help of human rights organizations, asylum seekers would get basically no help.

“There is only one water tap for 200 refugees,” she added.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch sharply criticized Hungarian authorities for failing to provide assistance to asylum seekers waiting to enter transit zones. They have no shelter, shower or proper food, and only a few portable toilets installed by Serbian authorities in early June.

Human Rights Watch also interviewed people who were apprehended inside Hungarian territory after trying to enter irregularly. They all said they were beaten and abused by people in uniform and then pushed back through the three-layer razor-wire fence to Serbia.