- Situation at the Serbian-Hungarian border
- Camps continue to operate below capacity
- Hungarian court equates Islam with terrorism
- Orbán forced to compromise on constitutional amendments
- The annexation of Népszabadság
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.
Both in the video and on his facebook page Toroczkai strikes a hurt tone at being impeded by international regulations from locking into closed camps those caught on the border. By, for example, posting a picture of a middle aged man on his Facebook page, he publicly shames people seeking protection. Besides mocking the man’s inability to understand any European language, Toroczkai declared his intention to lock such ‘deviants’ in “closed forced labour camps” before deporting them. This would make them think twice before they attempt to “cross over us” next time.
However, as long as the EU is unmoved by his entreaties, the great humanitarian mayor does not sit idle. Magyar Idők reported that the third line of defence, a smart fence equipped with heat and movement sensors, has been started at Gara, near the Serbian–Croatian border. Toroczkai and a emphasised that it is not smart to count on the fence unless the strength of the border patrol is increased. A similar statement was made by Péter Tarjányi, an expert of security policy. He thinks that the smart fence would increase further the already hefty costs—70 billion HUF (227 million €)—that had been sunk into the fence so far. Instead, he is of the opinion that what is needed is a 12 thousand strong specially trained force of “border hunters”, of which 3–5 thousand would be deployed on each shift.
Throughout October, the police held up 165 people who were trying to cross the border according to police.hu. However, due to media manipulation of numbers, now it appears in the media to be the number of people caught in three days on the last weekend of October. The violent push-backs continue along the border but even further into the Hungarian territories. The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), in a recently published report, criticised the Hungarian government for generally wearing down on the rule of law in the last six years. It also included the 8km law that allows violent push-backs, resisting the EU resettlement quota and police brutality against refugees are violations of the Geneva convention and asked the EU to take a stand.
Camps and detention centers continue to operate below capacity
Only few people are allowed to enter the transit zone at the border, consequently thousands of people are stuck in Serbia, while refugee camps and detention centres across Hungary continue to operate below capacity. While some of the camps operate in decent conditions and some are even getting renovated, others maintain unashamedly nasty conditions. We hear from people living in the open camp in Vámosszabadi, that repair works have started, even if at wintertime, which may leave inhabitants without warm water and heating for more than three weeks. At the same time, abcug.hu has reported on on the dire conditions in the tent-camp in Körmend, where the people are freezing.
The largest open camp in the country, Bicske near Budapest that is destined to be closed by the end of this year, is being emptied out slowly. The people who remain have been there for months waiting for a decision. Many of those who leave Bicske do so with a positive decision on refugee status, which is certainly a welcome change. We are very disappointed that the Hungarian government and the Immigration Office (OIN) have cancelled all integration support for these people, and has outsourced its responsibility to third sector NGOs and volunteers who support them in finding housing and providing language education.
The OIN published its statistics regarding detention and asylum processes. All in all there were marginally more refugee statuses granted, even if the total number of registered asylum seekers drastically decreased. Of the 2904 decisions of which 87% were refusals (mostly because people continued to western Europe instead of waiting for the result), 4% were granted refugee status, 8% were given the status of person under subsidiary protection and 7 people were allowed to stay. This means that there are altogether ca. 400 people who received a status in Hungary this year, and who by EU law are not allowed to move into another member state. Given that the OIN has completely abolished all integration support (housing, language education, allowance) for recognized refugees, the part of our work where we demand a functioning integration scheme for refugees in Hungary is ever more important.
There are less than 200 people in police and asylum detention across the the different facilities.The authorities are emptying the Kiskunhalas immigration detention centre—and painting it at the same time. There are only 100 people in Kiskunhalas asylum detention. Most of the people, mainly from Afghanistan and the Maghreb, have been recently caught while crossing the border from Romania, which has become more popular since the militarization of the Serbian border. As usual and in line with Hungarian asylum law, detained people are offered the option to be transferred to an open camp in exchange of a hefty deposit (1500-3000 euros). Many pay the deposit, move to an open camp and then leave Hungary, losing the deposit.
Hungarian court equates Islam with terrorism
The trial of Ahmed H., a man falsely accused of terrorism by the Hungarian state, continued on 28 October, and much of the efforts of Migszol has been directed on raising attention on the situation. We are also very happy that Amnesty International has joined us in the last two trials to monitor the case - a clear sign of the judiciary standards prevailing. In addition to the charges already levelled at him, Ahmed came under attack for his pilgrimage to Mecca and for a visit to his “muslim” friends in India. We are appalled at the court’s attempt to draw a direct link between Ahmad’s religion and his actions on the border, joining the racist tendency of equating Islam with terrorism.
We were happy, however, that instead of delivering the judgement, which was the original plan, the judge postponed the verdict to 30 November, giving time for the new, state appointed lawyer, to prepare for Ahmed’s defence. You can see our former reports on the case here and here. At the moment, we are also working on a detailed report about the latest hearing which will be published on our blog soon.
Migszol organised a flashmob in solidarity with Ahmed H. on the day of the hearing standing up against the court’s attempt to portray Ahmed H. as the leader of the protest at Röszke in last September, because none of the material and testimonies presented at the court neither support nor directly contradict the court’s claim.
In a recent controversy that raised some eyebrows in the context of Fidesz’ anti-muslim propaganda, Gaith Pharaon, a Saudi businessman, one of the most wanted white collar criminals by the Interpol and the US, was given a visa to Hungary and Orbán’s son-in-law is engaged in business with him. This event, that caused some stir in Hungarian media, overlooks the agreement that Hungary has with the US to report sightings of wanted criminal suspects. The prime minister acknowledged in parliament that he knows ‘Professor Pharaon’, but said that his case is an inflated American secret service manipulation. We are surprised that a person who has been wanted for 25 years by international agencies and reportedly has had links to Al-Qaida does not pose a threat to national security but Ahmed H., wielding a megaphone and a few stones, does. While Ahmed H. is in jail, Pharaon has been wined and dined, and his his men had brunch on the terrace of Gresham Palace with high profile government employees and members of the Orbán family. At the same time, a man who told the police of the frustrating circumstances on the day of the Röszke “attack” may expect life sentence.
Orbán forced to compromise on constitutional amendments
After the referendum of 2 October, Viktor Orbán claimed that the overwhelming majority of “the people” 98 percent, had cast a ‘no’ vote. Forgetting to specify whom he means by “the people”, he ignored the invalid votes and the 60% of Hungarians who didn’t attend. To the outrage of many Hungarians, he declared that the government had received a mandate to “take the necessary legal steps to protect the country”. And to achieve this, he wanted to resort to his most trusted technique—constitutional amendments. To pass the amendment proposal in parliament, Fidesz was looking at Jobbik for support. In return, Jobbik leader Gábor Vona’s demand was to cease selling residency bonds to wealthy Chinese, Russian and Arab businessmen. Although senior Fidesz politicians had started to criticise it, the residency bond scheme was not wound down and the constitutional amendments were not passed.
The annexation of Népszabadság
On 8 October, the publisher of Népszabadság suddenly suspended the largest independent political newspaper, Népszabadság. The editorial was not previously informed about the startling step, some of the staff received a letter distributed by a courier on Saturday morning that they are “exempted from the obligation to work”, while others who tried to enter the editorial building in order to start work were told to leave. The process has been well-documented and you can read more about it here and here. In our recent blog post, we highlight the gravity of the situation for civil society in general and NGOs, opposition parties and all other groups. We argue that the suppression of dissent might become our concern soon and we have to keep raising our voices. We stand in solidarity with the employees of the disbanded newspaper, and expect that the space of hate speech will now be extended through this sly deal. We fear that there will be less scope for real news related to migration and refugee and more for state sponsored propaganda.