Hungarian police accused of beating, torturing refugees

March 6, 2017

Photo: Andreas Bardell

Translation of “The refugees: the Hungarian police abuse and torture us” appearing in Swedish daily online Aftonblade on Sunday, March 5th, 2017.

BELGRADE. At a small clinic behind the central railway station in Belgrade are visible traces of Hungary’s brutal policies.
Refugees with bleeding wounds – those who say they have been beaten by the country’s police.

Photo: Andreas Bardell

“The Hungarian police hit me on the eye with a truncheon,” said Usman Khan, 18.

The young Afghan drops down on the wooden bench in the waiting room at the Doctors Without Borders clinic in Serbia’s capital. He has his hand over the swelling around the left eye.  The wound has become infected again.  Usman Khan should have been in Austria by now. He could have rested at an asylum center and got to eat cooked food. Instead, he is back in Belgrade, in a waiting room that smells like smoke because everyone there like him is on the run and is forced to build fires at night to try to keep warm.

Just a few hours have passed since the assault. The group of ten had taken the usual route.  Traveling by rain to Subotica, the last town in Serbia, led by a trafficker they walked the last two hours to the border. Shortly before eleven o’clock the smuggler cut and quickly turned up the barbed-wire fence with a bolt cutter.  Quickly they passed through the narrow opening one by one.

Almost immediately they heard dogs. They had been discovered. A group of five police officers and three dogs approached rapidly.  “Stop!” they cried. Usman Khan fell down on his knees and made himself small. The heart beat fast, he was terrified if the dogs would bite.  Instead, it was a baton that crashed over his head. It flashed. There were continual blows.  After a few minutes, the assault group was given the chance to run back through the hole in the fence and into Serbia again.

Outside there are passing cars.  They honk and force their way in afternoon traffic. Buddy Safi Ullah Rihan, 16, escaped with bites on the left hand. He points out the traces of the dog’s teeth.  Usman cleans the wound with a cotton swab.

“The Taliban in Afghanistan at home want me fighting with them. They threaten to kill me otherwise. I would like to go to Europe to get freedom,” he says.

CNN cannot confirm the details of Usman Khan’s story, nor the exact sequence of events at the border he recounts. We can only conclude that he is not alone in his testimony.   Around him at the clinic in Belgrade await boys and young men with eerily similar stories.

Photo: Andreas Bardell

Andrea Contenta is a humanitarian coordinator at Doctors Without Borders.  He does not really have the time to meet us. The clinic is overloaded and it’s a chaotic day. But he can no longer remain silent; the world must know.

Violence in itself is nothing new. In the fall, there used to be two or three beaten migrants a week at the clinic. But in recent days, something has happened, according to Andrea Contenta.

The day before our visit came twenty migrants – in a day.

“One patient was so badly wounded that we had to send him to the emergency room,” he says.

All had been on their way to Western Europe to seek asylum, a human right. And all said that they fought the Hungarian police or been bitten by dogs.  The wounds and swollen body parts are similar.

“We cannot and will not establish what has happened. But we can see that the damage comes from fists and batons and dog bites,” says Andrea Contenta.

While violence has partly changed character. Migrants have been assaulted with tear gas and robbed of phones and money. During winter, when temperatures dropped to ten degrees below zero, according to some they were forced to undress and stand in their underpants while they had ice-cold water poured over them.

“It’s about breaking down and degrading the migrants, about psychological abuse,” says Andrea Contenta.

Photo: Andreas Bardell

We go around among the abandoned warehouse buildings behind the railway station, which is home to hundreds of migrants. Throughout the country there are almost eight thousand, according to the UN.  The talk about the Balkan route being closed to refugees can be dismissed with a simple glance.

Photo: Andreas Bardell

Most are between 16 and 25. They are boys and men who remained when the women and the children moved to more orderly camps. When quotas were filled and the gates of Europe were closed.  Some have been beaten in Bulgaria, others shot in Turkey. Still, they say the same thing: the Hungarian police are the worst.  Since New Year, 23 migrants died on the Balkan route, according to Doctors Without Borders. Most victims have frozen to death.

Photo: Andreas Bardell

Light streams down through the holes in the roof, highlighting individual items and people as if their lives were an ongoing drama. One laughs. Showing bruises. Coughing up the smoke from the open fires. Spread out on mats, they trim and shave each other, play music, and call home on Whatsapp, but above all we talk about boundaries. If the husband has passed – and the one that has yet to cross.

It almost became an obsession. A guy with bandages has tried 24 times. He pulls up his red shirt, covered in bruises, the result of the latest failure.

“The Hungarian police stepped on my back,” he says.

The evening falls, the shadows grow longer. A rat scuttles across the warehouse floor.