Surrounded by barren farmland 8 km from the village of the same name, the camp in Vámosszabadi houses approximately 200 men, women and children, although the number of asylum seekers in the camp also fluctuates a lot. Fearing a life-time of persecution, poverty and in some cases, death, they have travelled to Hungary from places such as Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Kosovo, Sudan and others. Now, under the auspices of the imminent change of the legislation on migration, MigSzol revisits one of the
‘better’ Hungarian open camps.
Imagine that you are seeking asylum in the EU. Let’s say that after you have spent a number of months in the custody of the Austrian authorities, during which they had reviewed your asylum application, you receive a negative answer and are deported back to Hungary, the country through which you entered the EU. You again have the possibility of asking for asylum, but to start a new life in Hungary is made difficult by living in the secluded Vámosszabadi open camp, located 8 km away from the nearest settlement. The 10 km from Vámosszabadi village to the city of Gyor can be travelled by the village bus, but the costs are not covered for refugees. You have heard, though, that due to fierce anti-refugee protests in the summer of 2013 you should try to avoid the village bus, and the village in general. You should rather take the camp bus which only runs twice a day; on week-days the bus leaves the camp at 12:30 and returns at 15:30, while on the weekends it leaves at 14:00, and returns at 17:00.
Once given asylum, few refugees have the money to look for accommodations outside the camp or the necessary language skills. After 9 months of going through the byzantine procedure of requesting asylum, asylum-seekers are legally allowed to work outside the camp, but practically it is impossible to find employment at such a great distance from Gyor or any other settlement. The only jobs available for the asylum-seekers are the ones inside the camp: working in the kitchen, doing the laundry etc. If the asylum-seekers need legal help or advice they can only turn to the lawyer of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee who visits the camp once every two weeks.
Lost in the chaos of interpretation
We were told that one of the continuing problems that beseech the asylum application procedure is the lack of qualified interpreters. Most often the Arabic interpreter on call is employed to disastrous consequences for asylum procedure interviews in English, and requests for another interpreter are usually ignored. Overall, the application procedure is a complicated process that is rarely well explained to refugees and asylum seekers even if there are interpreters.
Thus, it is most telling that the security guards and officials in the camp rely on the language skills of a 11-year old Afghani girl that has somehow learned Hungarian in her destitute circumstances to communicate with the refugees. In these circumstances, MigSzol would rather see professional interpreters being utilized than a minor.
Blood mixed with indifference
Healthcare is one of the most sensitive areas of asylum camps as often the most basic human rights are grossly brushed aside. The purposes of mandatory medical check-ups of the refugees involving blood and urine tests are not explained to the patients, nor are the results of such tests communicated as the nurses charged with obtaining the samples do not speak English. One cannot complain or refuse such medical consultations, even if one is called to give blood a second time in two weeks, for example, for fear of becoming a ‘troublemaker’ and thus risk a blemished asylum application file.
Furthermore, asylum-seekers suffering from eye problems or dental issues are not covered by the healthcare policy in place. Short of life-threatening cases, the refugee or asylum-seeker in pain will not be offered anything else than a fist full of painkillers or a flask of eye drops. One asylum-seeker in desperate need of eyeglasses was told that, if he himself could pay the necessary 100,000 forints (~ 435 US dollars), he could see again his friends and family.
But let us not forget the cases in which the medical doctors of the Municipal Hospital in Gyor, the city closest to the camp where the refugees are taken for their check-ups, flatly refuse to treat the refugees. It seems that particularly the elder doctors are afflicted with a kind of selective amnesia that prevents them from recalling the Hippocratic Oath when a refugee crossed the threshold of their door, to the chagrin and dismay of both patient and the accompanying social worker. Last year, there was even a video where a local doctor was explaining that refugees are basically savages who bring diseases (no diseases have since been brought to the village by refugees).
Keep your friends close, but your valuables closer
Rampant thievery is another problem the inhabitants of the camp are forced to deal with on a daily basis. Although the camp itself is criss-crossed by an intricate web of closed circuit TV cameras, the security guards on duty scratch their heads in bewilderment if one were to go and report about a stolen wallet or mobile telephone. Not even locked doors are enough to keep the thieves at bay, but problem could be easily solved if the camp provided lockers for every person.
The quality of food offered to the refugees and asylum-seekers is another ongoing matter of concern. The most basic right imaginable has become a luxury, and asylum-seekers have learned not to complain anymore. During the past month of Ramadan, muslim worshippers were offered only bread and juice after 18 hours a day of complete fasting. With just 7500 forints a month for pocket money, there is no other choice but to accept what is offered by the restaurant contracted by OIN to service the camp.
Plenty of room for immigrants, No room for fun
There are about 50 children currently living in the Vámosszabadi camp, with ages varying from under 10 to 15 years old. Some of them used to go to school in the village, but for some reason they don’t anymore. No friends will miss them, though, because they weren’t allowed in the same classrooms with the local schoolchildren. Now they spend their time running around the camp, their parents taking care that they do not go missing in the surrounding wasteland. There is nothing to do for them, as they have no place to play in. In the past, some social workers would make time in their very busy schedule to bring them toys and play with them, but those times have long since ended.
The adults fare little better. As seen in the photo below, the improvised football pitch is a stretch of tarmac on which many a times those playing with the ball have broken ankles and bones. Nowadays when the asylum-seekers want to play football, the security guards call the ambulance to be at hand for treating possible injuries.
The books available in the camp, on the other hand, are scarce and can only be read for two hours a day, in a special room. People desperately want to read, but the social workers cannot offer the time to administer the ‘library’. As an example of the lack of privacy, the reader who wishes to delve into a book before going to bed at night, wakes up the following morning to see them returned by the staff to the ‘library’. That the door was locked is inconsequential.
It is worth reminding that the Vamosszabadi open camp was established in August 2013 as a response to the large and unexpected increase in asylum applications in Hungary. Due to fierce protests by the locals, however, the Ministry of the Interior agreed that the need for the camp would be reassessed in Spring 2014. Following a decision by which the camp stays in the village in exchange for some state-help for the village infrastructure, the camp seems to have become a permanent feature of the village. There are no signs that the camp will close anytime soon. In fact, in a recent statement the vice-Mayor of Vámosszabadi, Norbert Kukorelli, declared that there have been absolutely no problems with the refugees.
We have presented just some of the issues that the refugees and asylum-seekers housed in the Vámosszabadi camp are faced with every day of their stay in Hungary. But it should also be remembered that the story of the Vámosszabadi camp is striking also due to its lack of social drama: refugees came, and apart from a few more regular attendants to the Sunday Church, nothing has changed in the village. MigSzol will continue writing about their experiences and as we feel that the Hungarian public must be made aware of the refugees and asylum-seekers’ situation.
....In a few days, we'll be back with some personal reflections on the issue of homeless of refugees in Hungary!