Our feminism is anti-racist and our migrant solidarity is feminist! - Speech for the Int. Women's Strike, March 8th
On Thursday’s press conference, the Minister of the Prime Minister’s office János Lázár underlined Hungary needs to urgently “reintroduce detention to migrants”. Unfortunately János mixed facts quite severely in his statement, so we felt we have to help him out a bit. We are not surprised, of course, that the Hungarian government does not know its own asylum legislation, given the speed with which many aspects of it were changed in 2016, and given their total ignorance of international legislation. The core of the detention legislation, however, dates back to 2013, so János should know better. Therefore we wrote him the open letter below.
You stated that the Hungarian government has to reintroduce the detention of migrants to guarantee security. It is quite clear for us that your statement is a populist reach for voters among the far right, because Hungary has had a detention system in place for the last three years. Consequently, there’s no need to reintroduce it. What you suggested as a new policy is not “detention of migrants” but jailing everybody who applies for asylum. That’s very problematic for many reasons, but as you seem not to be totally aware of the system as it is now, we will begin today by sharing with you some basic facts about detention and reception in Hungary.
What is detention in Hungary?
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.
On Wednesday 7th of December Migszol received reports that people in the Bicske camp are now being moved out of the reception center to other camps.
Even if the closure of Bicske was announced until the end of the year (which we strongly oppose) we did not have any precise information on when it would take place. The people living in Bicske at the time - asylum seekers and recognised refugees - were surprised as well. That morning they saw a bus coming and the first group was taken to Körmend camp.
This is only one example of how the Immigration Office does not take into consideration NGOs and groups working to support asylum seekers and refugees, but even more than that, it also shows the neglect towards the people who are trying to start a new life in Hungary, the people over whom these decisions are being made. In some cases, people were asked to sign a document that they agreed to be transferred to another camp but no translation was provided.
Goodbye pictures from Bicske
On Wednesday, there were around 60 people in Bicske (asylum seekers or refugees). Around 23 people were taken to Körmend, 20 to Kiskunhalas and 20 to Balassagyarmat.
Migszol condemns this action and condemns the Hungarian Immigration Office for closing the best-functioning camp in the country and place people in inhumane conditions. Körmend camp is the worst camp currently existing in Hungary (which says a lot). It is made up of tents that are completely unsuitable for people to live in, particularly in these extremely cold temperatures. It is now below 0°C which puts people’s health and even lives at great risks. Our friends that arrived in Körmend wrote to us about the conditions and sent us pictures.
They were given wood to make fire to warm themselves. What could be more dangerous in a tent camp than making fire? Only a few weeks ago a 10-year-old and his grandmother died in Greece after a camp was set on fire.
Even if the conditions are slightly better in Kiskunhalas and Balassagyarmat, they are still not good enough! The Kiskunhalas open center only has containers, which are also not close to being adequate for the harsh winter conditions.
Additionally, these camps are in remote places and segregated, which results in further exclusion of those people who are trying to start a new life here. Many had started attending different activities in Budapest (Hungarian classes, friendships, university, etc..) that they can no longer continue.
The Immigration Office never publicly explained why they want to close the Bicske camp. Migszol sees this as part of a deliberate destruction of the Hungarian asylum system and of the racist propaganda that has been spread in the last year. This goes along with the closure of Debrecen camp, and the cancellation of financial support to asylum seekers and refugees (the “integration contract”).
One explanation unofficially expressed by the Office of Immigration and Nationality (OIN) for the closure of the camp was that there was not enough people to be accommodated, and thus there was simply no need for it. This justification is ridiculous, as we know that around 6400 people are blocked in Serbia as a consequence of the Hungarian border management. The Hungarian authorities reduced the number of people being allowed into the transit zone at the start of November from 15 to 10 people per transit zone per day, and only during weekdays. Additionally, people crossing the borders irregularly, who are entitled to apply for asylum, are simply and almost systematically pushed back to Serbia. More than 1000 people are sleeping rough in Belgrade waiting for their “turn”. The Immigration Office’s statement can also certainly not explain why they would close the best-functioning camp in the country and not the tent camp or far-off facilities.
In these conditions, other EU countries should also take on their responsibility and be aware of the consequences of sending asylum seekers back to Hungary based on the Dublin regulation.
Migszol is always demanding protection, decent support, accommodation and respectful treatment for asylum seekers and refugees.That goes way beyond, but definitely includes NOT INTENTIONALLY FREEZING PEOPLE IN TENT CAMPS:
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.
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!