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Government deprives refugees of food at Kiskunhalas camp

About ten local residents are quietly providing food to refugees in Kiskunhalas after the Hungarian government stopped all food stipends and provisions to them, and no NGOs came forward to fill the void.

The Budapest Beacon reported on April 20 that the  government had announced plans to cease providing any food or medical services to refugees remaining at the Kiskunhalas camp.

The new policy has since been implemented, leaving the refugees—who are not allowed to work in Hungary and may now only leave the camp between 10am and 10pm— without means of acquiring food. As of Friday, there were four asylum-seekers at the Kiskunhalas open camp.

The changes impact asylum-seekers who have been returned to Hungary from other European countries and are awaiting decisions in their cases, and asylum-seekers who have appealed decisions, according to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights NGO. This new approach was made possible through a package of controversial amendments to asylum procedures adopted by the Hungarian Parliament in late March.

Hungarian law prevents outside individuals from bringing food to refugee camps. However, some Kiskunhalas residents who are aware of the plight of refugees have been meeting them outside the camp and handing over food.

“If no one would have brought food over the past week, the refugees would have had nothing to eat,” said one individual familiar with the situation, who declined to be identified due to fear of retribution.

Activists who assist refugees in Hungary report experiencing opposition to their charitable activities.

The Hungarian government’s decision to stop providing food to some asylum-seekers, as well as the lack of response to their woes, follows a trend that has emerged over the past months as the government has informally taken steps to encourage refugees to illegally leave Hungary for the west.

Over the winter months, asylum-seekers in Körmend were forced to sleep in tents, despite freezing temperatures. Some observers believe that the hazardous conditions at the camp, which is near the Austrian border, were designed to drive its residents into leaving Hungary. In Körmend, despite the anti-refugee position of the Hungarian Catholic Church’s leadership, the local parish priest, as well as some residents, stepped in to provide shelter to the refugees.

The plight of asylum-seekers in Kiskunhalas has failed to garner any attention in the Hungarian media, and no opposition parties have addressed the situation. Both government-allied papers and media outlets that are considered independent have not reported thus far on the lack of food at the camp.

At the same time, concerns over Hungary’s new higher education law and the future of the Central European University in Budapest, as well as the draft law on foreign-funded NGOs, have distracted from the Hungarian government’s moves when it comes to refugees. The government’s legal and communications efforts to undermine the legitimacy of NGOs have forced groups to spend resources on defending themselves, and may already be eroding their ability to carry out their usual activities.

The crisis at Kiskunhalas may impact only a handful of asylum-seekers, but the lack of response from Hungarian society signals a further deterioration in the state of Hungary’s civil society and media landscape.

A spokesman for the government responded to Budapest Beacon questions of why the government had opted to deny food to refugees by writing:

“The suggestions in your question are completely false. Hungary provides every migrant arriving in its territory with the rights and allowances prescribed by international and Hungarian regulations.”

Lili Bayer :