- Political developments
- Austrian-Hungarian cooperation
- Movement and smugglers
- Political show trials in Szeged
- Violent pushbacks at the Serbian border
- Border guards’ shooting practice
- New open camp in Kiskunhalas
- Political developments
The Hungarian Minister of the Cabinet, János Lázár, continues to lobby for resuming Dublin deportations to Greece. In willful ignorance of the European Court of Human Rights-ruling that ruled against deportations to Greece, Lázár claims Dublin deportations to Hungary are “illegal” and that instead of Hungary, people should be deported back to Greece. He discloses that other member states want to deport up to 45 000 people back to Hungary.
Hungarian prosecutors have opened an investigation into whether police can be held criminally responsible for abuse over the death of a Syrian man who drowned in the Tisza river as he was trying to cross into Hungary from Serbia in June. His brother, who was travelling with him declared that the police force, who spotted them while making the attempt to cross the river, didn’t allow them to reach the shore. The police officially denies this accusation and an investigation is ongoing.
The constitutional court has refused all the proposals against the quota referendum, so Hungary will have the referendum on the resettlement quota system most probably in September.
2. Austrian-Hungarian cooperation
The Austrian Foreign Minister has recently echoed his Hungalrian counterpart in demanding a reduced number of people seeking international protection, and suggesting that asylum requests should be held outside of EU territory, after the model of Australia. Politically, this signals cooperation rather than confrontation with the Hungarians, which is likely to have implications with regards to the political questions around the quota system. Also, it is another sign from the Austrians towards the complete normalisation of the legal and physical border fence. The emerging consensus seems to be the call for even more militarized external borders to try to dismantle the internal Schengen controls. Some comments suggest that the Austrians frame the common external controls as a way to avoid setting up fences and the like on the Austrian-Hungarian border.
To take Australia for a model is not a suggestion that should be left unsanctioned, we think. Australia has come under heavy accusations from various human rights voices for its abusive system of confinement of asylum seekers in offshore facilities, such as the infamous immigration jails and asylum detention in Nauru and Manus islands. With no possibilities of public checks on the treatment of people in isolation, the privatization of the camp management, and the criminalization of reports coming from social workers in those facilities, Australia has one of the most deplorable arrangements for “hosting” people in need of protection. We also emphasize that open camps in Hungary are also sometimes isolated from the rest of the Hungarian society, which hardly makes them open thus, and even less so a step closer to integration.
Croatia has erected a fence on a bridge on the border with Serbia, reportedly to block the entry of illegal migrants and the activities of people-smugglers. Serbia was not informed of this move prior to its coming into force. The Croatian Police declared this to be a “preventative technical measure” to serve “state security."
We also emphasize that open camps in Hungary are also sometimes isolated from the rest of the Hungarian society, which hardly makes them open thus, and even less so a step closer to integration.
The policy, infamous from summer 2015, of selling international tickets to people on the move but then prohibiting them from boarding the train, seems to continue again, as exemplified by the case of 59 people taken off the train in Hegyeshalom, near the Austrian border, who all had valid train tickets to travel to Austria. There are also regular border checks on cars crossing to Austria from Hungary, and smugglers who are bringing people to Austria are caught on a daily basis. Also in Hegyeshalom, the police used a dog in order to chase a smuggler and the 22 people he was transporting: the van was stopped by the police and the refugees tried to escape through the forest and the dogs chased them in the forest (see the video prepared by the police).
4. Political show trials in Szeged
We have earlier reported at length of the political show trials taking place in Szeged. 10 people were accused of illegal crossing of the border during a mass riot on September 16th, when the border fence was about to be completed and a new legislation was about to enter into force. They were all sentenced to prison on Friday. Today, on Monday 4th July, Migszol is organizing a demonstration in front of the Kuria, the highest Hungarian court, to protest against this absurd decision.
We are extremely concerned that the trial is extremely vague on what, actually, constitutes an act of terrorism according to the prosecution and according to the Hungarian government. The case brought to court has a number of very contestable evidence against the accused, as Helsinki Committee and the other defence lawyers already reacted to. Of the initial number of police officers called to testify against them, only very few proved to have been there close enough to testify that the people accused were indeed protesting. Moreover, it seems that at least one testimony from the accused was falsified to portray their move towards the Hungarian territory as a wilfully directed act of breaking the fence, which was proved not to be the case. We would like to emphasize how dangerous such a trial is in setting a potential precedent, which might make difficult to imagine the very idea of protest against state abuse, police or any other official act of violence.
The case of Ahmed H. is the second trial in Szeged that will continue in September. Ahmed H., the son of some of the people in the group already convicted, is accused of terrorism because he was mediating the conflict at the border using a megaphone, and throwing stones at the Hungarian police. We are also calling for further investigation in this event in which, as some international media have reported, miscommunication on the side of the Hungarian police made people think they will be allowed to enter, only to be violently pushed back in a chaotic and violent police reaction involving teargas and metal batons used against the people who happened to be at hand.
The number of people caught by the police in Southern Hungary remains high - although we are worried for those days when there is a significant drop in the numbers. There is no absolute proof that during those days there are more violent pushbacks at the border, but at the same time there are corresponding testimonies, independent from each other, from people who have returned to Belgrade and report of serious injuries caused by assumed authorities.
People travelling describe acts of violence against those caught on the Hungarian side of the border. They report the use of dogs, pepper spray and electric shock against travellers caught by the police, as well as the refusal to attend to requests for medical assistance. No assessment of their vulnerability or specific need of medication is undertaken. Thus, pushing them back to the border repeatedly in some cases means, in effect, a strategy of abandonment. In the transit areas only a very small number of people can make an application everyday and the rest have to wait sometimes for weeks for their turn to come.
We are extremely worried of the Hungarian authorities overlooking the work of local vigilante groups, such as the “field guards” of the Mayor of the village of Àsotthalom, Laszlo Toroczkai (who, in 2015, made the infamous video with English subtitles for people moving towards Hungary). In this Facebook post from 24th June, Toroczkai proudly presents a picture of three young men whose hands are tied behind their backs with cable ties, claiming a victory for Hungary in the “real football language”. Toroczkai regularly posts pictures of people his field guards, who very much look like authorities but are not from the police, catch on the border. A third transit zone is about to be opened in Àsotthalom.
The 8km law, allowing for deportation of anyone caught within 8km of the border to be pushed to the Serbian side, will enter into force on Tuesday, 5th July. We would like to note that this legislation only legalizes an existing practice of violent pushbacks and is, still, against international law requirements to consider asylum request and to respond to cases of vulnerable people when first encountered.
6. Border guards’ shooting practice
In the pictures and video of a border guard competition held in eastern Hungary, police officers and border guards are shooting targets and filling up multiple choice questions related to mugshots of people seeking international protection. We find this extremely worrying, considering that crossing a border without identification or visa in order to seek international protection is not considered a crime in the international legislation. We do not see any place for armed guards who are, according to the photos of the police, not only clearly practicing how to shoot to kill, but also practicing speculation based on facial images of people with darker skin.
7. New open camp in Kiskunhalas
A new camp has been opened in Kiskunhalas in southern Hungary. We welcome the move of opening an open facility for vulnerable people, but would like to point out that this facility will be operating in a remote area. Kiskunhalas has previously been known for hosting two detention centers: an immigration detention center and a refugee detention center, where many of those deported back with Dublin are held, and where those imprisoned have staged numerous demonstrations against poor conditions and limited legal aid. Please see our earlier updates relating to Kiskunhalas in here. In the latest development, part of the refugee detention center will be turned into an open camp. It can host two hundred people who will be able to leave the camp during the day. In the meantime, we are calling for adequate conditions for hosting people requesting legal, political protection and decent means for living inside such facilities in Hungary.
Typically, the people living in the town of Kiskunhalas were not consulted or informed of the government’s decision (as was also the case when camps were opened in Vamosszabadi and Kormend). Indeed, the Mayor was informed on Thursday that the part of the detention center would function as an open camp from Friday, 1st July. Much of the anger of the people in Kiskunhalas is, just like the anger of people in Vamosszabadi and Kormend, directed against the central Fidesz government that, first, uses Hungarian taxpayers’ money to fuel general panic and fear regarding migration, and then secondly does not inform those taxpayers of decisions it makes regarding migration. Acting unilaterally, it provides no intercultural mediation or information in municipalities that host open camps.
General public in Hungary - in Kiskunhalas and elsewhere - clearly see that the opening of the camps in Kormend and Kiskunhalas are a direct consequence of last year’s short-sighted, populist closure of the largest refugee camp in the country in Debrecen, eastern Hungary. At the time, the government claimed that because of the legal and physical closure of the border, large camps will not be needed anymore.
Unable to admit that the Hungarian border fence is a total failure, waste of money and a total scam, the Ministry of the Interior blames the need of the new open camp on “Brussels” and their “lenient” migration policy. Hungarian government communication generally exaggerates the effect of the Hungarian border fence as a result of reduced number in people seeking protection, and totally ignores the brutal policies of the European Commission, such as the EU-Turkey deal. More than 17 000 people have crossed the fence this year, while 5100 people have applied for asylum in the transit zone. 4600 of them were considered vulnerable. The high percentage of vulnerable people also relates to the fact that single, physically healthy young men are generally simply not let in, and not allowed to apply for asylum.