“They tied our hands with plastic handcuffs on our backs. They beat us with everything, with fists, kicks and batons. They deliberately gave us bad injures. We asked why they are beating us but they just said go back to Serbia.”
A growing number of Hungarians have joined civil militias who have taken it upon themselves to aid border police in catching illegal migrants in Hungary. While the sealed southern border of Hungary is officially patrolled only by police and the army, an increasing number of asylum-seekers complain of violence committed by civil militias.
A few weeks ago, Human Rights Watch published a report about the abuse of asylum-seekers apprehended in the territory of Hungary. Many of them claimed they had been severely beaten by “men in uniforms”. Although they were not able to differentiate between different members of Hungarian authorities, NGOs fear some of the atrocities may be committed by civilians patrolling the border.
Toroczkai’s personal war
The best-known group was founded by the mayor of the small border village Ásotthalom, László Toroczkai. Members of the group wear camouflage and boots. More often than not, they also possess weapons.
Toroczkai is well known for declaring a personal war against illegal migration. Last year he even released a video as a warning to illegal migrants not to enter the central European nation. The video, which was styled like a summer Hollywood blockbuster trailer, showed the mayor along with local police on horseback, in police cars and helicopters to showcase the resources they possess to catch illegal migrants.
According to a report by German news magazine Die Welt, some members of the volunteers left their previous jobs in other parts of the country to join. One of them, 38-year-old “Tari” is an ex-bouncer from Budapest.
Though he is eager to help catch migrants, Tari insists that he does not use violence, which counters claims made by migrants in Belgrade who were rejected by Hungarian border guards and deported.
“I run after them and catch them with my hands,” Tari told Die Welt, while claiming that most of his time is spent waiting in bushes along known migrant routes. The day he was interviewed Tari was forced to admit he hadn’t caught any migrants, but mayor Toroczkai claims he caught over 300 migrants in June alone.
According to the paper, Hungary is not the only country where civilians have taken matters into their own hands. One group, named the Bulgarian Military Veterans Union, also wears camouflage gear and patrols the Turkish and Greek borders of Bulgaria. They claim that the migrants they catch are handed over to the proper authorities.
The problem with such organizations, however, is that they cannot be controlled. The number of migrants being abused and badly beaten at the border is steadily rising, and many asylum-seekers think civilians are the culprits.
“They tied our hands with plastic handcuffs on our backs. They beat us with everything, with fists, kicks and batons. They deliberately gave us bad injures. We asked why they are beating us but they just said go back to Serbia,” said one of the migrants interviewed by Human Rights Watch.
Although the report was not able to determine who was responsible, experts fear that the presence of civil militias is not helping when it comes to possible cases of abuse.