Asylum seekers are often traumatized from experiences in their home country, and many travel to Hungary under the most excruciating conditions. We feel that this makes the state’s duty to protect them subject to a very high standard, and thinks that detention inherently means that this standard is not being met. We believe that the effects of incarceration can only be exacerbated in people that did nothing illegal, have been under immense psychological pressure for considerable time, and are new to Hungary.
Being imprisoned is a life-altering experience for anyone. But the more extreme the experience, the higher the chance that it will leave a permanent and irreversible psychological scar. Just like people adjust to the norms and values of the society they live in, inmates must also adjust to the culture inside a prison. This process, commonly referred to by academics as prisonization, has been studied extensively, but very few studies have focused specifically on asylum seekers. The basis for some of the most pervasive effects will be discussed in the following paragraphs.
Secondly, having no control over daily routines may lead people to feel infantilized. In detention asylum seekers are not allowed to cook, decide when to wash themselves, or develop any of the other routines that people who live ‘freely’ do not even give a second thought to. It is also telling that they are not permitted to keep razor blades or mobile phones. Understandably, this can result in a compromised sense of self and self-worth, which can lead people to believe that they deserve to be degraded and stigmatized. The system of constraint can also cause the loss of the ability to do things independently or to exercise self-control. It often leads to self-destructive behaviour, and studies have shown that people easily succumb to an illicit prison culture when they are struggling to meet their daily needs. Moreover, being deprived of a sexual outlet is an especially difficult reality for young adult males, and it can cause hormonal, neurological and psychological impairment.
The third most salient effect also comes from the lack of agency that people in prison feel every day. Prisoners can become dependent on the institution for their daily routine, and this can seriously hamper any kind of integration upon release. Especially if a prisoner does not have a close network of personal contacts to turn to after being released, the effects of detention are likely to lead to prolonged internal chaos, anxiety and stress. More often than not asylum seekers have lost loved ones, and few will have an intact support network of personal contacts upon their arrival in Hungary.
So, while people in an open camp can leave to go to shops and local cafes, basically to participate a little in the society that is supposed to keep them safe, those that are detained have to fight for their physical and emotional well-being every single day. This reality is particularly cruel in the detention centre in Debrecen. Debrecen’s detention unit is located in the middle of the open camp, so detainees can watch the daily lives of their peers in the open camp. Although they have access to social workers, there are a lot of language problems and overall there is very little psycho-social support available.
In general, people in asylum detention often try to endure the stress by using medication, particularly a tranquilizer called Rivotril. This can be useful if a specialist prescribes it for a limited amount of time. However, if its use is not carefully monitored and the intake not limited, it can make people violent, and lead to other serious long-term problems such as addiction. Aside from the limited psychological support, there is also no specialized addiction treatment available.
MigSzol believes that any state that puts asylum seekers in prison must at the very least also offer psychological support. Detention that follows prior traumatic life experiences, such as imprisonment for political reasons or torture, can only rekindle and exacerbate those memories. By detaining asylum seekers, Hungary is introducing itself to newcomers by scarring and alienating them, and it is sabotaging the efforts of those that are granted refugee status to build new lives for themselves. At the same time, those that sought shelter here and that are not allowed to stay, end up leaving the country more traumatized than when they entered.