Migszol November update (December 22, 2016): The border policy of the Hungarian government has been successful in closing the border to most people seeking international protection. As a result, refugee camps and detention centers in Hungary are relatively empty and the media frenzy has subsided. The report of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, however, shows that the number of people stopped from entering the country in irregular ways has increased since the beginning of the year. At the same time, the number of asylum requests has shrunk significantly since July when the 8 km law was introduced. This, of course, has consequences for activists and volunteers, who now operate in an environment where it is increasingly difficult to have direct contact with people seeking protection. This increases the vulnerability of people, because there is less information on which activists and volunteers can act. First and foremost, however, this has consequences in Serbia, where more and more people are getting stranded.
November was cold, as also December is threatening to be. This is particularly taxing for those who are on the move, who are without shelter and who are not provided adequately by the responsible authorities, the states. We are thinking in particular of the approximately 6500 people (including the 1000 sleeping outside in Belgrade) who are stuck in Serbia, hoping to make it across the Hungarian border. We are thinking about the people who were transferred from the functioning refugee camp in Bicske to the Körmend tent camp, and the Kiskunhalas camp containers. We are thinking of those who wait in makeshift tents by the transit zones on the Serbian-Hungarian border to be let in. The Hungarian government has further diminished the number of people allowed in per day.
With regards to asylum-matters in Hungary, November had been no less eventful than the previous months. Ahmed H. received the first verdict in his case, Migszol organized several flashmobs and demonstrations. The transit zones reduced the number of people let through in a day, police pushbacks continue along the border including some extremely violent ones and the mayor of Ásotthalom is still kicking. Finally, if you want to see the faces behind these updates, take a look also at the pictures from the 4th birthday of Migszol.
Bicske closing, only a few people in detention
Earlier, we have written about the impending doom of the closing of the Bicske camp. For those who don’t know, the Bicske camp is close to Budapest, making it easier for people staying in the camp to participate in the society, come to Budapest to see friends and look for work, etc. After visiting the camp in November, we wrote about the uncertainty of asylum seekers that was made worse by not knowing what was going to happen to them. However, nothing could prepare the people (and us) to the morning of 7th December, when 23 people were told they had an hour to pack up their belongings before they would be transferred—no one knew where.
You can read about how the immigration office sent these people to sleep in tents, heated only with wood fired stoves, in below zero temperatures here. In the linked blogpost you can also find the two heartbreaking appeals that reached us from the Körmend tent camp, by the Austrian border, where the people were taken. This move resulted in significant public debate in Hungary (albeit not in the government-controlled media), and there have been several initiatives of outraged Hungarians to support the people transferred to Körmend.
The act of a local church in Western Hungary of taking in a group of people freezing in the tents, has been celebrated by many Hungarians. The church is notably not only going against the line of the Fidesz government but also that of the Catholic church that has vocally criticized Pope Francis for his pro-refugee position.
Borders and Dublin deportations
The situation at the transit zone remains as catastrophic as ever, and, on the Serbian side, the access of those independent volunteers who bring warm community places and humanitarian aid is severely limited. The Hungarian government has announced that the number of people let in through the transit zones per day is further limited to 20 people (10 at Röszke and 10 at Tompa). And during the weekends, both zones will be closed entirely.
We are shocked, not only at the Hungarian government’s ignorance of international legislation that guarantees the right to seek asylum without such limitations, but also at the international and European community’s silent approval of this blatant violation of human rights. The number of people waiting in front of the transit zones is also diminishing, due to the decreasing prospects of being let in. The border policy of the European Union and Hungary has, then, succeeded in turning Serbia into a buffer zone where thousands of people are stuck with no access to a functioning asylum process.
Shutting down all legal and safe possibilities for seeking asylum, of course, means a more lucrative business for smugglers and alternative routes. Recently more and more people have been attempting to enter EU in trains. The Hungarian police obliges us with a video of one particular operation in which 71 people, hiding in a cargo train, were caught trying to enter Hungary. In the meanwhile, Noborder Serbia has reported violent pushbacks, and the Mayor of Ásotthalom keeps on posting pictures of people his vigilantes have caught along the border.
In this context, and considering the complete abolishment of any integration support for refugees in Hungary, we are happy about the Danish decision to stop the Dublin deportation of asylum seekers to Hungary, which also has been the stance of Finland for some time. For more information on Dublin deportations, we recommend this update from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee in December 2016, that clearly shows how the Dublin regulation is dysfunctional. In the meanwhile, as the HHC update shows, Hungary is not only at the receiving end of Dublin deportations, but also attempts to deport people to Bulgaria and to Greece. Although, sadly, the European Commission has made public its intentions to resume Dublin deportations to Greece, the Hungarian government does not seem to understand that the decision of the European Commission has no retroactive effect. The government’s attempts, at the moment still go against the 2011 ruling of the European court of human rights.
Finally, for anyone interested in a thorough overview of all the legal changes in the Hungarian asylum system in 2015 and 2016, we recommend this comprehensive and clear overview by Professor Boldizsár Nagy, published open access in November.
The Trial of Ahmed H.
Ahmed H., a Syrian man accused of terrorism for trying to mediate between the police and the crowd in September 2015, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “terrorism” charges. During the entire trial, complete with islamophobic tropes like asking Ahmed H. about how he relates to women and whether he prays, there was no definition of terrorism.
The trial has resulted in an national and international outcry. The demonstration Migszol organized in protest of the show trial drew a crowd of Hungarians outraged by the decision, and Hungarian analysts have pointed out how the verdict is not only a marker of the institutionalised racism of the Hungarian government, but also of totally undemocratic and unreliable judiciary system.
We urge Hungarian and international media to cover the situation in Serbia, where the situation is escalating because of Hungarian and EU border policy. As said, 6400 people are stuck in the country, with inadequate reception conditions and dysfunctional asylum system. In November 2016 NGOs were forbidden by authorities to support refugees outside of official government facilities, although Miksaliste, a social center ran by a local organisation in Belgrade is still providing services and is now open 24 hours/day. However, because of the overwhelming number of people the space is open to children and families, single men are (once more) left in a precarious situation. Sadly, this month one young man from Afghanistan committed suicide in Adasevci after several failed attempts of trying to enter Hungary. This death is adding to the toll taken by the closing of the Balkan route.
Regarding the situation of single men, it is worth to remember that there is no clear vulnerability identification process at the transit zone. According to Hungarian legislation, single men are not vulnerable people, and therefore cannot wait for the result of they admissibility procedure in Hungarian territory. A very limited number of them make it through the transit zones. This leads to terrible frustration and incredible psychological pressure.
As a consequence to the harsh border controls in Hungary, a new phenomenon has appeared whereby people stuck for months in the Serbia are starting to make their way back to Greece via Macedonia, resorting to possibly life-threatening journeys with smugglers.