Opposition MP reports inhumane conditions at Körmend refugee camp

July 13, 2016

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Photo: Ágnes Kunhalmi

Inhumane conditions are inducing 40-45 percent of asylum seekers assigned to Hungary’s open refugee camp at Körmend to flee to nearby Austria in search of better living conditions, reports Abcúg.

Journalists not welcome

Getting into a refugee camp is not easy as journalists are banned from entering. (A lawsuit filed by Abcúg against the Hungarian state is currently before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.) Members of parliament, however, may enter, so the news website asked Socialist MP Ágnes Kunhalmi to take some photos and talk to the refugees.

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Photo: Ágnes Kunhalmi

According to her account, the asylum seekers are housed in searing hot army tents, many of which are infested with ants and parasites.  While some tents are home to only one refugee, others house as many as ten. They receive their daily food portions all at once, but since there are no fridges, much of their food spoils, especially in summer. The tents are full of rotting food.  Although equipped with electricity and internet, the only furnishings are used cots, so everything is left on the floor.  This, and the fact that there is rarely hot water, may explain why 30 percent of asylum seekers at Körmend suffer from scabies.  By contrast the skin disease is virtually non-existent in the other two open asylum centers in Bicske and Vámosszabadi.

Photo: Ágnes Kunhalmi
Photo: Ágnes Kunhalmi

The Ministry of Interior admits that hot water is a problem, but maintains that nobody suffers from scabies at present and they never distribute food that can go bad.

“During Ramadan, we distributed food once a day. Presently, asylum seekers get their breakfast and lunch separately, with lunch also being the time when they get their packed supper,” the ministry said.

Crossing to Austria

Asylum seekers mostly complain of the heat and the lack of refrigeration. Last Thursday, there were 70 of them living in Körmend but their numbers reached 200 the previous week. Having had enough, many of them cross over to Austria illegally, where circumstances are much better and refugees can sleep in hostels provided by the Austrian state.

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Photo: Ágnes Kunhalmi

Viktor Nagy, lawyer of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, told Abcúg that as many as 40-45 percent of asylum seekers decide to leave during any given two-week period. Needless to say, Hungarian authorities are not eager for them to remain in Hungary. The lawyer recounted the story of a Pakistani man who needed to undergo mouth surgery in Budapest.  In such cases, refugees are given a 3-4 day leave to be able to travel to the capital and find the hospital. This man, however, was only given a day.

Police don’t make it easy

Police often give refugees a hard time and there are many examples of official misconduct. Once the police threatened to punch two asylum seekers in the mouth for trying to enter a tobacco shop at the same time (Hungarian tobacco law only allows one person to enter at one time). They often assess heavy fines on refugees for even the smallest of offenses, such as jaywalking.

Photo: Ágnes Kunhalmi
Photo: Ágnes Kunhalmi

Körmend is an open refugee camp, meaning asylum seekers can leave if they return within 24 hours. Still, there were examples when those possessing only temporary residence permits were prevented by police from entering Körmend.

The Vas County Police Department denied such things happened. Viktor Nagy also admitted that sending refugees back to the camp was more widespread in May, when many policemen had no idea what an open refugee camp was.

“I talked to them and told them that everyone has the right to leave,” he said.

Photo: Ágnes Kunhalmi
Photo: Ágnes Kunhalmi

The refugee camp in Körmend was opened in May. Although it was meant to be a temporary solution, not even civil rights groups know how long it will be open. According to the Minister of Interior, the operation of the camp depends on the “migration situation”.

Meanwhile, tensions in Körmend are already running high after independent broadcaster ATV (erroneously) reported that a group of refugees were caught gawking at teenage girls playing handball.  The independent broadcaster also reported that the refugees broke the window of a neighboring building and that parents and students in the area were terrified.

Seizing on the opportunity to stir anti-migrant sentiment, the following day Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán ordered Interior Minister Sándor Pintér to immediately get to the bottom of what happened in Körmend in order “to protect the Hungarian people”. Two months later the police officially confirmed the whole story was false and closed the investigation.