“Hungary is breaking all the rules for asylum seekers transiting through Serbia,” says NGO

July 14, 2016

Asylum seekers waiting to be transported to registration centers Source: Origo.hu
Asylum seekers waiting to be transported to registration centers.  Source: Origo.hu

“Five or six soldiers took us one by one to beat us. 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. We kept saying we want to go to a camp.”

Asylum seekers at Hungary’s border are being forced back to Serbia, in some cases with cruel and violent treatment, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.

One of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights found that, while some vulnerable groups are transferred to open reception facilities inside Hungary, since May 2016 the Hungarian government has been summarily dismissing the claims of most single men without considering their protection needs.

“Hungary is breaking all the rules for asylum seekers transiting through Serbia, summarily dismissing claims and sending them back across the border,” said Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher at HRW.

New laws and procedures

New laws and procedures adopted in Hungary over the past year force all asylum seekers who wish to enter Hungary to do so through a transit zone on Hungarian territory. Restrictions on the numbers of people who can enter the zones mean that hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers, including women and children, are stuck in no-man’s land in very poor conditions waiting to enter.

Kelebia, 2016. július 5. Migránsok sátortábora a vajdasági Kelebiánál, a szerb-magyar határ közelében, a határvonalon húzódó magyar védõkerítés mellett 2016. július 5-én. A határ szerbiai oldalán az Európai Unió nyugati államaiba igyekvõ több száz migráns táborozik arra várva, hogy valahogyan bejusson Magyarországra. Ezen a napon éjféltõl mélységi határõrizetet vezettek be a magyar hatóságok a szerb és a horvát határ mentén. Azokat a migránsokat, akiket a határtól számított nyolc kilométeres távolságon belül elfognak, visszakísérik a kerítésen található kapukig, és útbaigazítják a legközelebbi tranzitzóna felé. Megduplázták a határ védelemben részt vevõ katonai és rendõri erõk létszámát, így folyamatosan egy 6-10 ezres állomány védelmezi az érintett határszakaszt. MTI Fotó: Molnár Edvárd
Refugees waiting to enter at the transit zone in Kelebia.  Photo: MTI/Molnár Edvárd

The Hungarian government in September 2015 initially capped the number of migrants allowed to enter each transit zone at 100 per day, but over time lowered the cap to 50, then 30. The number is currently capped at 15 per transit zone per day.

On June 8th, approximately 550 people were stuck outside the two transit zones in Tompa and Röszke, including 200 children and 160 women, without adequate humanitarian assistance such as shelter, showers, and proper food. A few portable toilets were finally installed by Serbian authorities at the Röszke transit zone in early June.

No tents or showers

Mohammad (34), from Afghanistan, travelling with his wife and three children, ages 13, 4, and 20 months, described the poor conditions they endured for 13 days outside the Röszke transit zone on Hungarian territory.

“We didn’t even have a tent and couldn’t take showers. We got very little food and it was mainly crackers from UNHCR and no baby items either.”

Mariam, a pregnant 27-year-old Syrian woman, and her husband and two children ages 5 and 3, had spent three nights outside the Röszke transit zone when Human Rights Watch met her. She described the arbitrary procedure:

“They pick families at random and only 20 people per day. First, there was some sort of order by arrival but a group came yesterday and they let them in today. Yet, we have waited longer. There is no system for lining up.”

Ásotthalom, 2016. július 5. Rendõr és katona járõrözik a magyar-szerb határon, Ásotthalom térségében 2016. július 5-én. Mélységi határõrizetet vezettek be a magyar hatóságok a szerb és a horvát határ mentén: azokat a migránsokat, akiket a határtól számított nyolc kilométeres távolságon belül elfognak, visszakísérik a kerítésen található kapukig, és útbaigazítják a legközelebbi tranzitzóna felé. MTI Fotó: Kelemen Zoltán Gergely
Soldiers and police patrol the border at Ásotthalom.  Photo: MTI/Kelemen Zoltán Gergely

Single males targeted

HRW also interviewed single males, whom the Hungarian authorities in early May returned from the Röszke transit zone in Hungary to Serbia without informing the Serbian authorities.  They said they were allowed into the transit zone after periods ranging from one night to 45 days outside the zone. Once there, they said, they were told to sign papers they did not understand and their asylum claims were rejected within a few hours.

Nasratullah (21), from Afghanistan, told HRW that he had waited outside the Röszke transit zone for 20 days before finally being admitted:

“When I came in [to the transit zone] the translator gave me 19 papers to sign…They didn’t tell me what those papers are that I had to sign and they just asked me my name and where I was from. They [official person] told me I have to wait 27-28 days and then I can go inside Hungary to somewhere. There was a man in uniform, but I’m not sure if he was police or immigration, but he was an official person,” he said.

Nasratullah spent 15 days in the transit zone, then he was sent back to Serbia.

Beaten and sent back

Human Rights Watch also interviewed twelve 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.

Farhad (34), from Iran, said:

“We were about 30-40 people in the group, including women and children. It was at night and we crossed the fence and walked about two kilometers into Hungary when we were caught by a group of approximately 30 police and military – they wore different uniforms, some dark blue, some grey but covered in rain gear. It was difficult to see because of it being night and they lit torches in our faces. They encircled us and told us to sit down with hands on our heads staring down. We asked for help and to go to a camp. They didn’t say anything. Four or five of them took out some white powder spray and sprayed all of us, they even lifted our heads one by one to spray our faces. All except women and children, but they still inhaled it.”

Next, according to Farhad, a near two-hour beating followed.

“I haven’t even seen such beating in the movies. Five or six soldiers took us one by one to beat us. 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. We kept saying we want to go to a camp.”

Children not better off

Unaccompanied minors were among those abused at the border before being pushed back into Serbia by uniformed men. Arsalan (15), from Afghanistan, said he had been twice violently sent back at the border. He described how his group of about 21 people were captured after crossing the fence:

“The Hungarian police did not behave well…As we entered through a hole in the fence, the police started shouting in their own language. Seven of us managed to run ahead, including me, but fourteen were caught. I could hear them tell the police that they want to stay in Hungary, that they love Hungary but the police just told them, ‘We love Hungary, not you.’ The seven of us kept walking further into Hungary but were captured [by police] after about 9 or 10 hours. They [police] took us to the border. There was a door in the fence, a steel door. They [police] opened it and sprayed our faces. They pushed us through and said ‘No Hungary, just Serbia’.”

The whole report of Human Rights Watch can be read here.