Refugees in the camp at Bicske township just outside Budapest will be relocated to a camp in Kiskunhalas once Bicske is closed in late December, The Budapest Beacon has learned.
While Bicske is a half-hour’s train ride from central Budapest, traveling by train from Kiskunhalas, in southern Hungary, to the capital takes about two and a half hours.
Bicske, which has been operating as a refugee facility for over two decades, is being shut down as part of a government-mandated wave of camp closures. Some Hungarian NGOs believe that the Fidesz government’s decision to close it is part of a broader political strategy.
“I think this is a very clear message for people that they shouldn’t stay in Hungary,” said Aliz Pocsuvalszki, a MigSzol (Migrant Solidarity Group of Hungary) activist as she stood outside the gate of the Bicske camp last Sunday. “When we put them in the middle of nowhere, they are completely separated from Hungarian society.”
In a November 16 note, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee maintained that shutting down Bicske is not simply a matter of allocation of resources but an attempt to push refugees out of Hungary.
The Bicske camp’s location has offered its residents opportunities to access a variety of educational and recreational activities that help them adjust to life in Hungary.
Some refugees from the camp commute to Budapest to attend classes at the Central European University, as well as language courses provided by NGOs. Bicske residents often attend events and meet with Hungarian mentors from groups such as Artemisszió multicultural foundation and MigSzol. Christian refugees are bused to an American church each Sunday morning.
Bicske’s current occupants include refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, Cameroon, China and Armenia. While many of them came to Hungary on their own — leaving their families behind in places such as Afghanistan’s Helmand Province and Kirkuk in northern Iraq — the camp is also home to several families with children.
Bicske, like some of Hungary’s other camps, is operating well below capacity. The number of asylum applicants in the country has decreased dramatically over the past months. According to data from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, in October 2016, 1198 refugees registered for asylum in Hungary compared with 5812 in April 2016. As of October (the latest data available), there were 529 asylum-seekers staying in Hungarian refugee reception facilities: 318 at open reception centers such as Bicske and 211 in asylum jails.
The Hungarian state offers very few resources to refugees — both to those in reception facilities awaiting decisions on their cases and those who receive asylum in Hungary. As a result, access to the few civil society organizations helping refugees prepare for their new lives is key.
It remains unclear whether refugees in Bicske currently attending classes in Budapest will continue doing so once they are moved to Kiskunhalas. Nevertheless, it is likely that refugees who while in Bicske attended events and workshops in Budapest, and who had opportunities to practice Hungarian and make contacts in Budapest, will have far fewer opportunities once they arrive in Kiskunhalas.