Refugees flee Hungarian camps to avoid detention

March 22, 2017

Outside the Kiskunhalas refugee camp on a recent afternoon, a refugee family was walking along the road toward the center of the southern Hungarian town.

“They are not coming back, they are going to Austria, and from there to Germany,” one refugee, A. (not his real initial), told the Budapest Beacon, speaking on condition of anonymity due to fear of retribution.

Refugees currently housed in open camps — camps where refugees awaiting decisions on their asylum cases are permitted to leave the premises as they wish— are moving quickly to leave Hungary.

On March 15, Hungarian President János Áder signed new amendments into law that allow for the automatic detention of all asylum-seekers currently in transit zones. The new legislation also allows for asylum-seekers and migrants who entered the country irregularly to be apprehended from anywhere in the territory of Hungary and removed to the southern border with Serbia. Refugees in camps across Hungary will all be moved to a new, closed camp along the border, likely in the coming weeks, where they will be housed in storage containers.

With merely a few days left until the new policies formally come into effect, many refugees are hurrying to leave the country to avoid either deportation or being placed in a transit zone.

The Budapest Beacon’s sources inside the Kiskunhalas refugee camp estimate that of its current 30 residents, only eight to ten will stay there after the new law comes into effect.

At the small Kiskunhalas train station, a group of police officers was keeping watch. But refugees believe the government’s intent with the new policies is in part to incentivize them to leave Hungary.

“It’s a game,” said A. “Those who say they will stay have mostly been here for a year or more,” he explained, noting that refugees within this group have advanced asylum cases in Hungary and are still hoping for a positive response.

Nevertheless, even within this group that has decided to put their fate at the hands of the Hungarian asylum system, there is a recognition that chances for a positive decision are slim.

“There is no law in this country,” said another refugee, B., also speaking on condition of anonymity. “After being placed in the closed camp, people will get negative decisions [in their asylum applications].”

At the camp, refugees have little faith in European and international institutions, or in foreign governments.

“Other countries support Hungary, they don’t do anything” when it comes to Hungary’s refugee laws and practices, said A. His impression is that foreign governments agree with Hungary’s approach.

Refugees in Kiskunhalas who have made the decision not to try to escape Hungary are suffering from growing anxiety at the prospect of life at the closed border container camp.

“People don’t sleep,” said A., describing the mood inside the Kiskunhalas camp. “We will have to spend an hour or an hour and a half just in line for food, the police are not behaving well in closed camps, and my biggest fear is being thrown back to Serbia.”

Human rights watchdogs have pointed out that Hungary’s new policies violate both European and international law.

“Automatic blanket detention of asylum-seekers without a judicial order or an effective judicial remedy is in violation of the 2013/33 EU Recast Directive on standards of reception, the right to liberty under the European Convention on Human Rights and international refugee law standards,” the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Human Rights Watch wrote in a joint letter in late February to European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

“Detention of asylum-seekers should be an exceptional measure and decided by a competent authority on a case by case basis,” the letter emphasized.

Refugees who have spent months and in some cases over a year in Hungary waiting for asylum decisions are particularly worried about the prospect of being deported to Serbia once the new camp is set up.

Asked what he would do if deported to Serbia, B. smiled, but answered: “The only thing I can do is hang myself.”

A. put it differently: “It feels like we’re already dead.”