Five Migszol members travelled to Debrecen to talk with refugees and asylum seekers who were happy to see us again. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to socialize with asylum seekers who have recently been released from the Debrecen detention centre. Some of the refugees that talked to Migszol members were those who participated in the protest in May. Our protest took place not long ago, and it’s still too soon to see the effects of it; no changes have been noticed by the people living in the open camp and in the detention centre. We state again that albeit we believe asylum seekers and refugees should not be kept in camps, but while this is the case, we are looking to improvements in reception conditions the camps.
Detention of minors and lack of legal aid
A 17-year old refugee from Sierra Leone shared his story with us. Before the Migszol protest, he was detained for six months after entering Hungary without a passport. He has many friends in the jail, and recounted experience of the violence asylum seekers encounter almost daily: disagreements with the security come with the risk of physical assault and losing any money that the asylum seeker might have. He was never given a lawyer or social worker. During our interviews with ex-detainees, who were sent to the Debrecen open camp, we realized that the ratio of detainees to social workers in very high. Also communication is often problematic. Furthermore, the fact that in all detention centers state lawyers can only spend five to ten minutes a week with the asylum seekers and the fact that lawyers from Hungarian Helsinki Committee are more present in the camps than state lawyers, show the failure of the Hungarian state to provide legal access to the asylum seekers and refugees in Hungary.
A twenty-year old asylum seeker was grateful for Migszol visits to the camp, but worried about his possible deportation to Bulgaria, an issue that Migszol has previously written about. He was scared because nobody provides him with any kind of information about his possible deportation. He recounted experiences of torture by the police in the jail back in Bulgaria, where he stayed for ten months. With a proper consent form, he allowed us to take pictures of his body signs and we are very thankful for him. In our next blog post we will discuss the Bulgaria-issue at more length - until then, you can find more information in the recent UNHCR report on Bulgaria as a country of asylum.
" There are also some friendly guards that talk to refugees about different topics, for example one guard was talking with a refugee in the jail about music. We are very happy to hear these positive sides - although a jail with a friendly guard is still a jail, and such discussions and debates over music could just as well happen in a social setting in the city."
Asylum seekers sewing their lips in protest
News of protest reached us from Nyírbátor, the small town in Northern Hungary with both asylum and immigration prisons. According to one refugee, the guards in camp verbally and physically abuse the detainees. Cases of hunger strikes are present, too. We were told of other forms of protest, too, such as sitting or lip sewing. If a guard sees someone with a sewed lip, they will put that refugee in the so-called “solitary blocks”, and doctors will inject him with “stuff that would put you to sleep for a week”. We heard of a case of an Iranian Kurd that was put in these solitary blocks and being told to unsew his lips in order to be set free. He was eventually freed after spending two days in there and he was also injected with the psycholeptic drug that made him sleep for couple of days. While we have no further information on these hunger strikes at present, and have not been able to visit Nyírbátor recently, we find these stories alarming and wish to draw attention to the proper medical attention to people on hunger strike, like we have written before.
Good news: friendly social workers and kind guards
Not everything is negative, though - we were told that although social workers know little English, they are nice to them; but they would like to have a lawyer, too. There are also some friendly guards that talk to refugees about different topics, for example one guard was talking with a refugee in the jail about music. We are very happy to hear these positive sides - although a jail with a friendly guard is still a jail, and such discussions and debates over music could just as well happen in a social setting in the city. Such positive news also reached us from the detention centre in Bekescsaba on the Romanian border: we are extremely happy to hear that the social workers and guards in Bekescsaba are exceptionally friendly and nice, and nobody related stories of racism or violence. We hope that the personnel in other camps will follow the example of the people working in Bekescsaba! On the other hand, people told us that during the last four months, in the Bekescsaba detention centre, there have been almost 15 cases of hunger strike and attempts against deportation to Bulgaria and Romania. We hope we will soon be able to visit the Bekescsaba detention centre.
Finally, to return to the good news, we hope that we have not given an impression that when Migszol visits the camp, we are only dwelling on worrying and alarming tales. The more we visit Debrecen, the better friends we are making with the folks living the camps, and the merrier the atmosphere of the meetings, as the below selfie suggests!