- The 8km law and violence on the border
- Escalating situation on the transit zone
- Continuous protests in the detention centers and emptying camps
- Propaganda and conspiracy theories
The 8km law and violence on the border
The 8km law, that we wrote about earlier, took effect on the 5th of July. According to the legislation, anyone who is caught within 8m on the Hungarian side of the border fence may be “escorted” back to the Serbian side of the fence. This legalizes the pushbacks of people to the Serbian side and severely restricts people’s right to seek asylum. In practice, those caught and pushed back are not given a chance to ask for asylum, which is contrary to international law. We find it cruelly ironic that at the same time the Fidesz government claims that the border fence is working, the Hungarian authorities are cutting holes to this fence in order to push people back to the Serbian side. The results of the law have been catastrophic: the number of people waiting at the transit zone to apply for asylum at the border has doubled. There is no legal help available, civilian volunteers and activists have limited access, and the living conditions are abysmal, as this video from Migszol Szeged also shows.
The situation and violence at the border zone is instilling terror in the people who would dare cross the fence. Recently László Toroczkai, the mayor of Ásotthalom, a conspiracy theorist also suggesting that George Soros is supporting international activists, held a press conference in Budapest demanding for more power for the vigilantes at the border. Toroczkai claims that local villagers are better than police at catching people seeking protection because of their better knowledge of the territory. In a clear move towards encouraging self-organized forces with the power to use violence, Toroczkai poses with his new dog, which he is training to guard the border, and also added a photo of three Afghans his vigilante field guards caught. We also hear daily reports from people who have returned from the border to Belgrade after having been severely beaten at the border by “men in uniforms.” We are demanding a clarification concerning the immense power that the Ásotthalom mayor is taking for himself and his paramilitary group in capturing people, posing with them as if they were wild game, with zero respect towards their privacy and their right to seek asylum, and his recorded testimony asserting that those people he recently captured had a lot of money on them.
Also, lights are being installed on the border fence, Toroczkai reports. He, as a true hunter, does not like the lights because it will lighten up the field guards. In a separate recent episode of Toroczkai’s hunting spree, he posted a photo of three Moroccans caught, while arguing that the police and the army cannot do their job but the locals can.
In addition to the established violence encouraged by Toroczkai, the Hungarian TV station ATV has a recorded conversation where Zsolt Tyirityán, the leader of Betyársereg (“Outlaws’ Army”, a paramilitary vigilante group) is explaining at a ‘self-defense camp’ that they have actively taken part in protecting the borders, and that they were asked to do it by the representatives of the “system.” Asked who is the “system,” he said he can only “tell more details around a beer”, but that the army and the police need these self-organized civic sports circles. In the end of July, the Hungarian newspaper HVG reported that yet more extreme right vigilante groups are starting to patrol the border.
Another layer of the ever expanding system that aims at policing the border zone is constituted by the most recent activity of a group of foreign border guards, whose mission is to help Hungarian border guards for a month. This move should not be considered lightly, as it indicates a dangerous European wide project of deepening the so called management of the borders through sharing of police forces and information beyond the powers of Frontex.
We are deeply disappointed at this cooperation, which signals international approval of the practice at the Hungarian-Serbian border. Indeed, after recent visit by the Austrian Chancellor Kern to Budapest, Austrian and Hungarian governments agreed to cooperate in order to limit people’s access to Hungarian territory in order to seek asylum.
Although Viktor Orbán’s asylum policy is extremely cruel, and denies basic rights of people, we would like to remind that his actions are not only silently approved by other European governments - indeed, governments such and Slovakia and Austria actively cooperate and signal their approval, and the European Commission itself has in its recent law proposal adopted many of the aspects of the Orbán asylum policy that it earlier criticized as inhuman. Note, in addition, that Austria is starting to build a fence on the Hungarian border.
In the meanwhile, János Lázár has said that critique to the border law is unfound and says that Hungarian government is the example of “solidarity”. He also says that the Hungarian border guarding is going well and other countries should follow the example. Also recently, Péter Gerstmár from the green party, Politics Can Be Different (LMP), held a press conference and stated that LMP calls for setting up of an independent border guard unit instead of relying on the police. He further stated that LMP does not agree with the 8km law. He says also that right now there is also no chance of getting asylum in Hungary and that the government should follow the EU on this.
Escalating situation on the transit zone
On 3rd August, a group of people held a short flash mob demonstration in front of the Hungarian consulate in Subotica and demanded the border to open. The conditions in the zone clearly indicate they had valid reasons to protest. This follows a march from Belgrade to the border, where people seeking protection also staged a hunger strike and demanded Hungary respect their right to seek asylum. We recommend everyone to follow the updates from Moving Europe, Migszol Szeged and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee to see regular updates from the border area.
On 7th July, in a tragic accident, a 10 year old Afghan boy, whose family was awaiting admission outside the Hungarian “transit zone” in Horgos drowned when bathing in a nearby pond. His family is being supported by civil groups in Serbia.
The daily life of people waiting to be accepted in the transit zone is precarious as all basic services are provided by volunteers and humanitarian organizations whose work is regulated by the plans and whims of the Hungarian state. Some months ago the Hungarian government announced that five main charity organizations, including Red Cross and Caritas, will take up the work of taking care of the people in the waiting area. As they slowly started their work now, it seems they cannot, or are not allowed to, do much. For instance, one big issue in the waiting zone is the lack of basic means for hygiene and access to a sufficient number of mobile toilets. Recently, Gábor Iványi , the head of the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship tried to bring mobile toilets to the hundreds of people waiting at the border. However, his request got an absurd response from the Minister of Interior Sándor Pintér, who said that providing mobile toilets in the area would encourage the formation of a permanent camp at the border. There is little we want to comment on the absurdity of mister Pinter’s thought according to which people would stop fleeing horrendous conditions of violence and try to find a better place to live because of his cunning idea to deny their access to proper hygiene. Also worrying are the reports from civic organizations, including Migszol Szeged, which are usually providing food at the border and who have been denied access to people in the last few days.
Despite the lack of international media attention, The Balkan route has not been “closed.” People will continue coming and waiting for a solution to their basic demands for legal and political recognition, in a colony of tents that the Hungarian state has wilfully created by pushing back those who attempt to cross Hungary.
In a recent visit to the Röszke transit zone, Lajos Kósa, the president of the National Assembly Defence and Law Enforcement Committee has said that everything functions well. To counter this claim, we recommend everyone to take a look at these photos to show a militarized small enclosure in which people’s asylum demands are initiated, surrounded by barbed wire. In a recent meeting there with the National Defence and Law Enforcement Committee of the parliament the official representatives stated that 95% of the migrants are not cooperative, that they lie and use fake personal data and then they just disappear from the open camps. We, personally, are not surprised that people leave from the open camps, when they have poor translation, very little information available, terrible living conditions, and most of all, when they have been “welcomed” to Hungary by denying entry, and often times by detention. We find it shameful that most single men are refused entry as an informal rule, sometimes leading to forceful separation of families, as adult males are detained or pushed back to Serbia. This and many other cases of violation of legal and political right of asylum seekers should put the light on the lack of cooperation and honesty of the Hungarian state, and the silent approval by the European Union.
Continuous protests in the detention centers and emptying camps
Presently, as reported by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, there are more people jailed in the detention centers than being housed in the open camps. The open camps are relatively unused because people are stuck on the Serbian side of the fence. There have been several protests inside the detention centers. We stand in solidarity with all the detained people who are protesting - we believe that no one should be forced into a closed camp, in a prison regime, for their demand to be recognized as persons in need of legal and political protection.
The fights and suicide attempts inside the detention centers, especially in Kiskunhalas in Southern Hungary, are extremely worrying and clear signs of frustration among people who have been locked up for exercising what is their right under international law: seeking asylum. Fights, and group fights, between people, sometimes in groups, who are detained usually take place for access to internet or the television, telling of how extremely excruciating it is to be locked up with no access to information about the asylum system in Hungary, nor books to read, or languages to study, or television to watch, or way of contacting one's family. In the end of July, some detainees from Kiskunhalas managed to escape the facility.
The Hungarian police routinely uploads reports and even pictures of the aftermath of fights, which further serves the purpose of the government of portraying detained people as violent and threatening. For details on the conditions in detention, please see our earlier detailed report during a previous protest in Kiskunhalas earlier this summer.
The Hungarian Immigration Office (OIN) has officially stated that the largest open refugee camp in Hungary, Bicske, will be closed by 31 December 2016. Bicske is one of the few open camps placed in a short distance from Budapest, permitting people there to travel occasionally to Budapest and inform themselves better about the opportunities they might have to find a place to live and work after being given legal protection in Hungary. The conditions in the Bicske camp are oftentimes terrible, especially when the facility receives more people than it can actually host, and we have been systematically reporting about the lack of sufficient or decent meals there in the last few years. That said, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee provides regular quality legal aid to people staying in the camp, and of all open camps in Hungary, the conditions in Bicske are arguably the best. The closing of the camp risks making even more insecure the situation of those applying for asylum and forced to wait for a decision in places more isolated from the main cities. The recently opened camps in former military facilities indicate an even harsher prospect for those who decided to hope for legal-political recognition in Hungary, not to mention very few opportunities to meet Hungarians.
The conditions of living in the Körmend camp, in Western Hungary, have been revealed by a politician of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), who took these photos from inside the Körmend camp. Officially, no media is allowed to enter there and no photos are permitted, but as these have been leaked to independent Hungarian media we share them. Presently, the people in the camp are housed in military tents under the scorching sun, and in order to meet the case officers for their asylum claims, they sometimes need to travel all the way to Debrecen in eastern Hungary, a distance of more than 9 hours by public transport. The living conditions in Körmend are very poor: the food goes bad very fast and there are no refrigerators for storing anything, and without proper care from the camp authorities, the MP reports, the overcrowded tents are invaded by ants. In addition, the camp is absolutely not prepared for the summer storms of July and August, with chaotic conditions of mud. The Körmend camp is there temporarily, as the authorities are increasingly stressing. The government’s strategy is to eliminate all the facilities that are supposed to house asylum seekers while applying for state protection.
Politics of government propaganda and conspiracy theories
Culture of fear
Despite severe crises in housing, education, healthcare, and emigration of Hungarian youth, migration and security continue to be the number one topics of the vast network of the Hungarian state-influenced media. The main strategy of the government communications is threefold: instigation of fear, spreading propaganda for the pseudo-democratic referendum, and relying on cryptic conspiracy theories.
Images of war, and aggressive migrants, are a basic element government “experts” rely upon - indeed, in early August, an “expert” on the state TV even in the national news stated that the migration might result in “war conflict”. You may watch the daily English language fear-mongering state TV news, under the title of “Hungary reports,” in here. György Bakondi, the Chief Security Advisor to the government, and Péter Szijjártó the Foreign Minister are the most frequent commentators. Bakondi, especially, portrays migration with the images of war, claiming on the national TV that Europe is constantly under pressure from migrants both in the Balkans and from Italy. He claims that “illegal immigrants” want to get to Western Europe, even violently. For another English-language sample of the government’s propaganda rhetoric, please see this official news piece on the page of the Hungarian government. Other politicians follow the same rhetoric, and portray Hungary as the savior of Europe: in a widely circulated interview to a German newspaper, the Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, blames the European Commission for “destroying Europe.” He calls on member states “to take back their power” and says that Hungary has “saved the European way of life”.
This talk of war is also what the government is using to justify the pseudo-democratic referendum of October 2016. We would like to point out that while the debate on the referendum is of top priority, it is also turning away attention on the unfolding legal and humanitarian fiasco on the Hungarian-Serbian border and creating an illusion that the Hungarian asylum policy is successful. Indeed, some weeks ago in the weekly government briefing, János Lázár was as delusional as to state that the “migration crisis” was not stopped by the EU-Turkey deal, but instead by the fence that Hungary built on the Serbian border. The latest addition to this culture of fear are the statements of the Minister for Health Care, who claimed that migration poses “a serious public health challenge” and claims that healthcare is provided by the state in the transit zone.
Referendum and propaganda
In addition to this language of threat and war, the government has started a new chapter on official state propaganda financed by the Hungarian taxpayers. The newest billboard campaign relates to the upcoming referendum. We find the slogans of the government distasteful - especially this one that shamelessly, uses the victims of terrorist attacks in Europe to the propaganda purpose of the Hungarian government with no respect to the grieving families of those who died: “Did you know? Since the start of the migration crisis more than 300 people in Europe have died of terrorist attacks.
The Hungarian referendum about the EU migrant relocation system will take place on October 2nd. The government is commenting on the topic on daily basis and utilizing its a propaganda machine with the abovementioned billboards to advertise their point of view. Migszol has elaborated here why the referendum is not a valid democratic tool in this context, why it instrumentalizes the topic of migration in order to avoid discussion about real social issues, and why the quota system as such is not a good solution in helping people on the move. Many political parties hurried to condemn the referendum and have various reactions from supporting boycotting to participating. They can be read in brief from here.
Finally, we would like to share the state of conspiracy theories of the government - we also recommend this recent piece on the topic from Hungarian Spectrum. In a recent speech, Viktor Orbán was blaming the migration crisis on the U.S., along with a cryptic allegation that “in this story, we are the Indians” (see his Facebook post on this remark in Hungarian and English in here.)
In addition, the government and the state-media continues to blame George Soros and the Open Society Foundations for destroying Europe by “bringing in muslims.” This theory was sparked by the aforementioned Mayor in Ásotthalom, László Toroczkai, who published a post making connections between the Welcome to Europe-activist network and George Soros. We are sad to report that Toroczkai and other politicians, like Bence Rétvári from the Human Resources Ministry, might need a translator, as they really seem to have misread the information on the information leaflets provided to people in Serbia by several groups. When children seeking asylum without their families have been advised to inform the authorities that they are under 18 and traveling alone, the government propaganda machine seems to have translated this into a conspiracy theory according to which transnational activists, supported by George Soros, are encouraging all people seeking asylum to pretend to be 18 years old.