The Bicske reception center is being emptied out. The camp has been in operation since 1989 providing refuge to people from neighbouring countries, for those running away from the Yugoslavian war, according to the website of the BÁH (Office of Immigration and Nationality). More recently its doors were opened to people seeking asylum from outside of Europe, too. No one really knows what is going to happen to those who have been housed in the camp for many months while waiting for a decision, but some people received a letter that they would be moved to another camp on December 15th. The camp has always been a place of uncertainty for asylum seekers and recognised refugees, but now that the BÁH announced that it will close the camp, the feeling of insecurity is even greater.
Migszol has been visiting the people hosted in the camp in October and November to find out more about the situation.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Pastor Martin Niemöller, who was imprisoned in a concentration camp by the Nazis in Germany in 1938, points towards exactly those moments when dissent is gradually silenced until it becomes impossible. Of course, the circumstances in 1938 were considerably different to what we witness in today’s Hungary. Yet, there is an important lesson to be learned that applies equally well to the recent closure of the most widely circulated independent newspaper Nepszabadság. This is a blogpost on why it is important not to stay silent on each of the singular attempts by the Hungarian government to close down, threaten and marginalize all dissenting voices in Hungary. We do not want to go into all of the details of the closure here, since they have been widely reported on (you can read those here and here) but give just a brief overview of what happened, before arguing why raising one’s voice in solidarity with Nepsabadság is important for civil society in Hungary at large.
November 30-án volt Ahmed H. utolsó tárgyalása. A terrorcselekmény elkövetésével vádolt szír férfit a rendkívül ellentmondásos tanúvallomások és a bizonyítékok nyilvánvaló hiánya ellenére 10 év fegyházra és végleges kiutasításra ítélték. 10 évet kapott, amiért megafonba beszélt a rendőrökhöz és eldobott 3 tégladarabot, illetve - ami az igazsághoz hozzátartozik - mert muszlim és migráns.
Wednesday was Ahmed H.’s final hearing. Accused for ‘terrorism and other crimes’, after a series of extremely biased trial hearings and without any evidence he was sentenced to 10 years of prison and expulsion from Hungary. 10 years of prison, for talking to a megaphone and throwing 3 stones, or as we should say more accurately after the trails, for being Muslim and a migrant.
The protests at Röszke border crossing
Ahmed was arrested a bit more than a year ago, shortly after the 15th of September 2015, when the Hungarian government closed its border with Serbia. During the night, irregular border crossing into Hungary became a criminal offence. Hundreds of people who wanted to move on to find international protection were blocked at the Röszke–Horgos border crossing without legal information and extremely limited support. Some people started to protest to move on. The situation got increasingly tense until it escalated and police started using tear gas and water cannons and protesters were throwing stones. Ahmed H., was among those who communicated with a megaphone between the crowd of protestors and the police, tried to calm both sides down and later also started throwing stones. When the counter-terrorist police force attacked the waiting crowd, ten people of the crowd - among them Ahmed’s parents, with whom he was travelling to support them on their way to Germany to seek international protection and medical help - were arbitrarily singled out and arrested in the police operation, as they were among those who could not leave quickly enough due to their age and health problems. These ten people were brought to court and accused of “participation in a mass riot” and “border violation”. Ahmed was brutally arrested later at a train station and imprisoned, waiting more than a year for his verdict.
The Bicske reception center will be closed by the government by the end of 2016. Migszol is very angry and frustrated about that. This is why:
Migszol supports the full inclusion of anyone in society regardless of their immigration status, and demands to take the necessary steps to reach that goal. We want to live in a society where people seeking protection are not separated, where they can live in apartments, can have the same conditions, circumstances as citizens of the country do. That means, we do not support the idea that people should have to live in camps at all during their asylum procedure let alone for years after they were granted asylum.
But in the current situation, we find ourselves wishing that the old camps remain open. Despite our criticism of putting people in camps and the conditions there, we are afraid that closing the camps at this point would even worsen the situation for people seeking protection Hungary.
This is an update on asylum- and migration-related developments in Hungary from October. For the decreased numbers of asylum seekers, see the numbers released by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. For legal information for people waiting in Serbia to enter Hungary to seek asylum, please see this info leaflet. You may also see our FAQ on the border process here.
Situation at the Serbian-Hungarian border
The second part of October saw the continuation of Ahmed H.’s trial, continued militarisation of the borders and the curtailment of the freedom of speech in Hungary. All refugee camps camps and detention centres are functioning below capacity. On a bright note, however, Migszol has uploaded FAQ on the the procedures at the border, available in several languages in here, as well as organised a flashmob in solidarity with Ahmed H. (see more below). In addition, We started a monthly social space, where refugees can get together and talk to us about their problems and ask questions.
On October 2nd 2016, the Hungarian people were asked to vote on whether they would like to accept what has come to be known as the EU quota system for resettling refugees from other EU countries to Hungary. The question, already indicating the “correct” answer, drove most of the opposition as well as a large number of various groups and NGOs to call for a boycott of the referendum (see here and here for the Migszol position on it). The idea behind the boycott was to invalidate the outcome of the referendum. For this, more than half of the Hungarian electorate had to abstain from participating in the vote. In the end, 60% of the Hungarians either chose to boycott, invalidate or abstain from the vote.
The call for boycotting the referendum seemed to have succeeded. The opposition declared the blasting defeat of Viktor Orban. For the first time, the Fidesz government failed with a referendum that they initiated. Yet, Orban shed a different light on the results of the vote. He simply ignored the question of the validity of the vote and claimed that the vast majority that had voted had decided against the EU quotas. He claimed that the 98 percent of the people that had cast a ‘no’ vote, supplied him with the clear mandate to take legal steps to protect the country. He dug out a proposal that was previously made by Jobbik and announced the government’s intention to change the constitution — yet again.
60% Hungarian electorate ignores the racist referendum, but situation at the border remains catastrophic
September was characterized by intense and fierce debates on the stakes, meaning and results of the referendum on the 2nd of October. These debates, vibrant and justified, have also overshadowed the violent push backs at the Hungarian-Serbian border and the show trial of Ahmed H., a Syrian man accused of terrorism.
While tensions run high in Serbia, more and more people are opting to avoid Hungary and cross to Romania instead. In this situation, it is hardly surprising that the open camps in Hungary are functioning well below their capacity (see our latest report from Bicske, destined to be closed in December, in here). Even though there are fewer and fewer people seeking protection, Hungarians have been able to enjoy an ever more omnipresent and pervasive amount of propaganda funded by the taxpayers in Hungary. Hungarians have recently found in their mailboxes flyers informing them that many European capitals and cities are divided between livable areas and no-go zones into which it is too dangerous to enter because of crime coming from immigrants. Many diplomatic bodies have already strongly reacted against such flyers, denying the existence of such “no-go zones,” demanding a response from the Hungarian Foreign Minister. Lazar seems unmoved by such reactions, travelling through the country prior to the elections, telling stories about his travel impressions in Germany, where he concluded that Turkish migrant children “have no intention to learn German.”
Another chilling attempt to create a fake enemy is the the recent high-quality propaganda video on Viktor Orbán’s personal webpage, complete with fake blood and images of “dead” Hungarian people during a “counter-terrorism drill”. We can only be astounded by the sick violent fantasizing of Viktor Orbán and his government. Set as a response to a potential terrorist attack in the public space, it shows a bunch of angry men dressed in Robocop suits and frowning at imaginary enemies, while Orban enters the scene with a preoccupied look, dressed up for the occasion, giving stern handshakes to his men about to enter this imaginary battle. If it weren’t another serious stage in this government’s securitization of people’s movement across borders, it would be a spectacle of absurd comedy seeing these unnecessarily angry men chasing imaginary enemies. As it is, this mock anti-terrorist attack is part of a larger and more lethal spectacle of insecurity, in line with the ongoing militarization of the borders, patrolled by soldiers and policemen. And the government is planning to recruit even more people for border policing! Added to this is the day in day out security rhetoric of many government representatives naming in one breath migration and terrorist threats in Europe, or Fidesz’ recent declarations on the role of Hungary as the last frontier to European (Christian) civilization. In this context, the military drill in a Budapest metro station is a security move that further crystallizes the attempt to criminalize asylum and protection demands from people on the move.
Contrary to what many people in western Europe might think, Hungary is not full of supporters of Viktor Orbán or Jobbik, and there are tons of exciting things going on. First of all, on October 2nd, 60% of the Hungarian electorate ignored the propaganda machine of Fidesz and did not bother to even show up at the racist referendum. The referendum result, therefore, is invalid - although Orbán already said on the night of the elections that he would look into changing the constitution, despite its invalidity, to nevertheless transform the law as planned if the referendum were valid.
On 15 September 2015, the Hungarian government closed its border with Serbia and made crossing into Hungary illegal under criminal law. Hundreds of people got stuck at the Röszke–Horgos border crossing without legal information or support. The situation got increasingly tense until a protest started and escalated into police excessively using tear gas and protesters throwing stones.
Ahmad H. reached the border while accompanying his parents along the Balkan route towards Western Europe. He participated in the protest against the border closure by acting, along with several others and with the aid of a megaphone, as a channel of communication between the police and the crowd. Together with ten other people he was randomly singled out and arrested in the police operation. The ten others were found guilty in a previous trial for “participation in a mass riot” and “border violation” and sentenced to 1-3 years of imprisonment, although the material showed that they were not actively participating in the protest.
Ahmad H. is accused of “terrorism and other crimes” and faces potentially life long imprisonment. The previous trial hearings have shown that the biased questions and selection of testimonies by the court aim at establishing Ahmad H. as a leader of the protest, although the court lacks the evidence.
Report from the trial, September 23rd
Here we are once again in front of the Szeged court with a lot more police presence than last time, thanks to the fact that in front of the building a small group are holding a solidarity demonstration. But inside we receive the same welcome as before, nobody asks to see any ID but we enter through a security gate and put our bags through an X-ray. We head up to the now familiar corridor where once again we’re directed to a side-corridor, during which from behind the locked iron door the stocky masked guards lead out Ahmed, cuffed at ankles and wrists. Upon looking at him it’s almost unbelievable that only three months have passed since we saw him last. Perhaps I’m just imagining that he seems much older than before. Later in the courtroom I notice that his voice also seems to have changed, it’s now hoarser and more timid.
We take our seats. The judge and the prosecutor arrive, but the lawyer it would seem, for whatever reason, hasn’t found it important to turn up at their client’s hearing. Instead they’ve sent their young as yet unqualified colleague. The proceedings begin. I guess I have to take back my comment from the previous hearing in which I said certain details were “boring”, because this hearing surpasses the last beyond belief. The judge announces at the beginning that she will read off the witnesses’ statements, pausing in between for the sake of the interpreter, but the reading could best be described as ‘rattling off’, which is no surprise, given that the texts themselves are insignificant, startlingly similar and completely uninstructive. A large part of the material is the statements of police and standby police ordered in from other parts of the country. Also included now are the statements of the eight accused who were sentenced in the first Röszke trial. To a small degree their statements cast a different light on the events of 16 September, but not much information surfaces regarding Ahmed’s role in the disturbances. After the statements the judge asks the accused whether or not he would like to add anything to what has been said, or whether or not he would like to request individual hearings of the witnesses, to each of which the answer is “no”.
This article was originally published in OpenDemocracy and in LeftEast on the 2nd of October.
"Our first major interview on openDemocracy was on the ‘Post-Fascism’ thesis recently expounded by the Hungarian philosopher in the year 2000. Here, Tamás regretfully revisits concept and reality. LeftEast interview. Serbo-Croat.
The Hungarian government failed to achieve a referendum result on Sunday. While voters overwhelmingly supported opposing any mandatory European Union quotas for accepting relocated asylum seekers, the ballot was invalid due to low voter turnout.
This blog is ran by members of Migszol, it features our analyses and reflections on asylum questions in Hungary in more depth. If you would like to write a guest piece, drop us a line!