UNHCR chief says Hungary’s transit zones are really just detention centers

September 13, 2017

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi (right) visiting the transit zone in Röszke, Hungary. Photo: UNHCR

Hungary’s transit zones are really just detention centers, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi after wrapping up a two-day visit to Hungary. Grandi met with both Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó and Interior Minister Sándor Pintér, urging them to consider the importance of European solidarity and to take part in the EU program to relocate asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy.

In his meetings Grandi expressed his concern that asylum-seekers, including children, were being kept in the “transit zones” during their asylum process. “Children, in particular, should not be confined in detention,” he said Tuesday after touring the Röszke transit zone on Hungary’s border with Serbia.

He noted that children under the age of 14 arriving in Hungary alone are transferred to an open center where they receive good care, and he encouraged Hungary to maintain such a facility while expanding it to include older unaccompanied children.

In his morning visit to Röszke, Grandi met unaccompanied children staying in the transit zone, including two 14-year-old boys who travelled to the country on their own. Ahmad, from Aleppo, Syria, fled two years earlier when he was just 12 and arrived in Hungary one month ago after a harrowing journey. He told Grandi he was hoping to receive asylum here because his family is in danger and he hopes to rescue them by applying for family reunification. Suleyman, from Kabul, Afghanistan, showed a large scar on his arm that he said he got from a Taliban attack. He said he fears being forced to return and would like to stay in Hungary.

Refugees in Röszke live in containers in small locked compounds. Medical care and other services are provided and informal activities for children have recently started. Asylum-seekers complain mostly of the lack of information about the asylum process and of being penned up without freedom to move beyond the many razor-wire fences.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi visiting the transit zone in Röszke, Hungary. Photo: UNHCR

According to the UNHCR, Hungary over the last few years has systematically constrained its asylum system through restrictive legal measures and has virtually eliminated state support for recognized refugees to get by and integrate. Among these measures are  razor-wire fences along Hungary’s southern borders which restrict access to asylum by allowing only ten asylum-seekers per working day into the country.

“When I was standing at the border fence today I felt the entire system is designed to keep people, many of whom are fleeing war and persecution, out of the country, and preventing many from making a legitimate asylum claim,” Grandi said.

Once asylum-seekers get into one of Hungary’s two transit zones, refugee recognition rates are low, even for people fleeing conflict-ridden countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.