This report is based on the talk and discussion on an event on of the Röszke trials in Hungary, on refugees accused of violating the border fence during a riot/mass disturbance - which was held in Auróra, Budapest 24th 2016. As our guest, we had Tamas Fazekas, who works for the refugee program at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. Fazekas is a criminal lawyer, the defendant of three of the accused, and works for the HHC since 2001. The views expressed in the event and in this blogpost are his own and not representative of the HHC. HHC has unique access to all refugee camps and detention centers in Hungary. They are independent from the Hungarian government and do not receive any project money the EU, and provide free legal aid for people seeking international protection in Hungary.
The new 8km law allows to push back people to the Serbian side of the fence (Migszol Update 10 - 20th June)
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has published new info leaflets for asylum seekers in Hungary (available in 10 languages here).
Quick overview of recent events
A new amendment of the law allows the police to ‘escort’ all refugees that are caught within 8km of the fence to the ‘no man’s land’ at the other side of the fence where they have to wait for days and weeks in inhumane conditions and almost no legal counselling. A new transit zone is opened in Àsotthalom. The conditions in the detention centers remain very bad, especially from Kiskunhalas immigration detention people report dirty facilities, lack of food and to be denied contact with their families. In the meantime there are trials against refugees who are accused of ‘vandalism’ going on (see the Migszol event on coming Friday, June 24th, regarding the political trials of riots in Roszke in Autumn 2015, in here.)
In between June 10 and June 20th there have been 1362 people who were caught crossing the border illegally to Hungary
New law to legalize push backs of refugees
In early June, after the law that abolished the integration contract, there has been new small but very severe and significant change in the Hungarian asylum law. The new amendment to the asylum act, that is to be signed by the President, outlines that whoever enters irregularly to Hungary and will be caught within 8 kilometers of either the Croatian or Serbian border will be “escorted back to the transit zones” by the police. As the Helsinki Committee declares, the people waiting in the pre-transit area are queueing for days and weeks, without being provided with tents, access to toilet or even water.
Bakondi György, the chief security advisor to the Prime Minister, declared that the most recent legal change in the asylum system will strengthen the measures in place, such as the barbed wire fence. In this limbo area, there is very high uncertainty about the fate of people who cannot return to Serbia but cannot move on to any other destination. According to the governmental chief security advisor, this measure will ease the pressure put on the existing camps and will stop “illegal immigrants” from staying in Hungary. We argue that the “pressure” accused by Bakondi has different causes – in the last months, a number of open camps have been closed (Debrecen, with the biggest capacity, being the most infamous case) and the basic services and reception conditions in some of the remaining camps are severely limited. The difficulties in accommodating people in open facilities is government-made and it is caused by its refusal to provide basic services to those few allowed inside such facilities.
The political and legal limbo situation of people at the border is made even more serious by the ambiguous relation between Hungary and Serbia. Serbia recently asked an explanation from Hungary regarding the new modification in law ordering the deportation of refugees back to Serbia via the transit zone which in reality belongs to Hungary. Serbian government declared that they will not take anybody back. In the meantime, the people “escorted” by the police back to the border know very little about the legal provisions that the government adopted to keep people out of Hungary and limit the number of applications for legal recognition. There is not legal aid provided by the government, and the only independent source of legal assistance in transit zones, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, has limited access and capacity to deal with each case. For instance, in the process of application in transit zones the right to appeal an order of expulsion must be exercised within a few days. While only a few dozen people are allowed to make an application everyday, many more are waiting in makeshift camps without extremely limited access to basic services of food, water, medicine. There are no sanitary facilities nor shelter for people to sleep or protect from the weather etc, while Hungary allows only 30 people per day through the transit zones.
For a summary of the last legal changes that further destroy access to protection for refugees and asylum seekers in Hungary we recommend you to look at this recent update from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.
Death at the Serbian-Hungarian border and demonstrations in detention centers (Migszol update from Hungary, May 25 - June 9)
This is an overview of recent developments in Hungary between May 25 and June 9th, 2016.
People in Kormend need to travel 500 kilometres to meet their case officer
In May the new tent camp in Kormend was opened, and just like we thought, people keep on disappearing from there. As expected,the conditions in the camp are very problematic. Access to legal aid or proper case officers is very limited, and the biggest problem is lack of information. We are especially worried of the fact that some people who are staying in Kormend need to travel to Debrecen, a distance of nearly 500 kilometres and a 9-hour travel by public transportation, to meet their case officers and attend the court hearing regarding their asylum case. In such absurd cases, the immigration authorities does not provide them with accommodation to stay overnight in Budapest.
Conditions in Körmend are bad, much like in Bicske and Nagyfa in previous years, with the tents being simply inadequate without a proper floor or mattresses. There is a doctor at Körmend, some people, however, have no information of where they can meet him, though others do. One of our chief concerns is that in Körmend as well as elsewhere, the quality of food has not only went down but also become severely limited, as people are simply not served dinner anymore. This is very serious concerning the fact that according to the new legislation, people are neither entitled to weekly cash allowance. Coffee, cigarettes, dinner, utilities for small babies, etc., all have to be financed by people themselves: if someone loses all money to e.g. in a robbery, there is nothing to do. The arbitrary decision making about detention, especially in the case of Afghans, is not only clear from this article by ABCúg that interviews previous OIN-workers, but also from the experiences of detained people.
During the week, Hungarian government representatives have confirmed their intention to close the now largest open refugee camp in the country, Bicske. There is no final date for the planned closure.
Death at the border
In early June the police on the Tisza river on the border of Hungary and Serbia saw two men swimming across the river to Hungary. Upon seeing the police, they turned back, but only one of them reached the shore. On June third, the body of the second man was found. There are conflicting reports about the nationality of the man, presumably Iraqi or Syrian, 22-year old person seeking international protection in Hungary.
During the morning, the Hungarian police picked up an Iraqi family of five people from the water, where the 2-3 year old toddler was close to hypothermia. The mother and the three children were brought to a hospital, while the father was taken for criminal investigation. We are deeply disturbed by these photos and videos published by the Hngarian police, where police visits the family in the hospital giving them presents - and would like to remind that the only reason why the family was forced into this desperate solution is because of the extreme difficulty of accessing Hungarian territory to seek asylum. Also UNHCR has severely condemned the treatment of people in border areas. UNHCR and other organizations such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee are documenting numerous stories of Hungarian police violence and push-backs at the Hungarian border.
Number of people waiting at the transit zone is rising
16 612 (as of May 22nd) people have crossed the fence during 2016, and there have been 17 000 asylum requests lodged in the country A humanitarian crisis is evolving in the transit zones, where the policy of letting in only 20-30 people per day continues. UNHCR, HCIT and MSF are present on the Serbian side. Unfortunately it was reported that MSF could not work for few days. This was very worrying when most of the people waiting on the Serbian side are part of vulnerable groups including many sick people and children. The access on the Hungarian side is very limited only to SOS Children village, UNHCR and the HHC. However the Hungarian government announced that they have has given money to the following Hun charities for working on the border: Hungarian Maltese Charity, the Catholic Caritas, the Hungarian Reformed Church Charity, the Hungarian Ecumenical Charity and the Hungarian Red Cross. It is not clear when they will start.
At the end of the month, the chief security advisor to Viktor Orbán, György Bakondi, stated that a third zone might be set up near the village of Ásotthalom with the notoriously racist Mayor who prepared a refugee-hunting video in 2015. Bakondi also stated earlier that there might be a new legislation according to which anyone caught within 8 kilometres of the border fence will be brought back to the transit zone. A draft text of this legislation has not been circulated.
Protests in the detention centers
In the last few weeks, there have been several protests in the different detention centers in the country. In the national media, the protests were immediately branded as very dangerous and unacceptable, and a security “experts” were comparing the situation to “war, where one side is not respecting the law”. Riots happened in Kiskunhalas, of which we also wrote about at length, and in Bekescsaba in the southeastern border of Hungary. In addition, a fight between two men was stopped by pepper spray in the detention center in Nyirbator. We are in daily touch with people detained and with relatives and friends of those detained, and we are extremely worried of the situation with detention, leading to desperation and hopelessness. Many of those detained were caught on their way to Austria and detained after that. That said, more than 10 000 people have disappeared from Hungary towards the West during 2016.
End of all integration support
May 2016 was the last month of the previous asylum legislation, with substantive changes taking effect from Wednesday, 1st of June: there are substantial changes to the status of humanitarian protection, all integration support for recognized refugees has been abolished, and similarly to Austria, there will be a 3-year automatic review on the Convention refugee status and for the subsidiary protection status. Refugees are now expected to take advantage of the same social support available for Hungarians: in practice, this means becoming homeless along tens of thousands of Hungarians, and ending up in a domestic registration system that effectively bars refugees from applying for Hungarian citizenship in the future. We would like to further note that homelessness has been criminalized in the Hungarian constitution, and that for it is almost impossible for families to enter the Hungarian homeless shelter-system. We urge all other European Union member states to immediately stop all Dublin deportations to Hungary. In addition, we urge all member states to stop the deportation of people who already have a refugee status in Hungary, but are now seeking to stay in other EU countries.
This is a Migszol translation of the original article that appeared on 23rd May on ABCug.hu, by Albert Ákos. Translation by Juli Perczel.
There are legions of asylum seekers and, increasingly, decisions have to be reversed. So are complaining former employees of the Immigration Office who had left their jobs for these reasons. Often individual applications for refugee status were refused on the grounds that the applicant did not arrive from countries that were to the politicians’ liking. Some case offices are complaining about having to deal with so many cases that they cannot keep up with them anymore, while previously they would have recognised each applicant by face.
12 994 people
This is the number of the asylum seekers registered in Hungary between January and April this year. Last year the number within the same interval was 40 thousand, while in 2011 there were only 1693 applicants throughout the entire year.
Apart from the number of asylum seekers, there has been some other changes in these six years: while in 2011 no one cared about the refugees coming to Europe, today they provide the basis of government policies. Ruling politicians do not welcome refugees in Hungary, rather they find them dangerous. Viktor Orbán, the prime minister, some weeks ago went as far as to say refugees need to be kept out.
Yet, the rights of asylum seekers are guaranteed by international conventions. Developed countries have to accept those whose lives are threatened, or are the target of violence, in their home countries. In Hungary it is the job of the Office of Immigration and Nationality, the OIN, (Bevándorlási és Állampolgársági Hivatal, BÁH) to decide who should and who should not receive protection.
Abcúg had talked to several case officers of the OIN who for years had been dealing with and making decisions in asylum procedures but, recently, have given notice (all requested to remain anonymous). They said that in the last few years work conditions changed so that they no longer could fulfill their job with a clear conscience.
Another case officer added that in their opinion refugees left Hungary for a good reason. “If the conditions of reception are acceptable, if the refugee camp has food, medical provisions and hygienic conditions, then, there is less chance that the asylum seekers would want to move on towards Western Europe,” said the case officer. However, in the Hungarian camps the circumstances are inhuman; the camps are overcrowded, there is chaos everywhere, and the professional and personal attitude of the personnel is to a great extent mixed.
Anyone who is in need should receive protection
In Hungary there are several reasons for getting asylum. Refugee status can be given to those who come under the Geneva Convention grievances, for example if they are persecuted in their home countries for their race or religion, and the status of a person under subsidiary protection can be given to those whose lives could be in danger if they were to return home. The status of a person under subsidiary protection is weaker than that of the refugee, because it can be revoked any time and has to be reexamined every five years.
Who gets which status is determined by the OIN, after a person indicates their wish to apply for asylum to the Hungarian authorities. This happens nowadays in the transit zones by the border, or when the police collect migrants roaming the forests and fields. At this point their case gets transferred to a case officer who first interviews the asylum seeker and then decides whether that person can stay in Hungary.
To make a decision, first the case officer interviews the asylum seeker. Previously they would give hearing to someone at least twice but, according to one resigned official, they were free to invite an asylum seeker any amount of times. The point was to give enough time to the applicant to present what they had to say.
The logic behind the interviews is to provide an opportunity to applicants to explain why they are asking for protection. Yet, this is often far from simple, as not everyone is capable of putting their life conditions into words. “The applicants come from different countries, used to diverse sociocultural environments and different behavioural patterns. There is great variance in terms of people’s verbal skills,” explained one of the former case officers. On top of that, many come having experienced harsh traumas, so that it is essential that the officials spend enough time for earning their trust.
“This is a procedure that cannot be done on the conveyor belt, because you have to start with the assumption that every person is coming from a particular place with a particular story,” said another former case officer. If there is not enough time, their rights will be undermined, for they will not be able to put forward their need for protection convincingly. OIN workers also expressed their belief that this was important, since earlier the widespread perception was that “anyone who is in need should receive protection”.
Applications increased by hundreds
The asylum seeking process had been entirely transformed in the last 3–4 years, a fact that does not come as a surprise in light of the manifold increase in the number of applications to be processed. As opposed to the 1693 in 2011, there were 42 thousand asylum requests submitted in 2014 and 177 thousand in 2015.
A sound procedure lasted at least three months. During this period, while a preliminary hearing and, then, a detailed one was conducted, the opinion of the national security experts was asked and a decision was made. Meanwhile, the case officers got to know each individual asylum seeker to the extent that they would recognise and greet them on the streets even after many years.
According to another former case officer, official procedures were increasingly determined by policies and not by an assessment of the question whether an individual required protection. “The competent authorities wished to enforce political will in the case of certain countries of origin, such as Iraq and Afghanistan,” said one of the case officers.
According to former case officers, in the last few years there were many who, similarly to them, resigned from OIN or asked to be transferred into other positions due to these reasons. This is a problem also because asylum procedures require great background knowledge and care. Those dealing with requests have to know the laws, how to make interviews and also the current socio-political relations in the petitioners’ country of origin. In addition, the case officer has to be able to show empathy during the procedure, while at the same time they have to be able to make an objective and legally appropriate decision. For any new employee at the office it may take years to gain the expertise and competencies required for the job.
We also approached the OIN. We wanted to know among other things how the asylum procedure changed in recent years, whether their case officers were overworked, how many of them resigned, how the government’s anti-immigration campaign affect their work and what were the conditions in the camps. The OIN wrote back saying that they will reply after the 30 days stipulated by the right to public information laws as deadline. We will publish their reply as soon as we will have received it.
What do the numbers say?
The OIN publishes statistics of the asylum procedures regularly on their website. However, from these numbers, it cannot be unequivocally established whether it has become harder or easier for an asylum seeker to gain refugee or “person under subsidiary protection” status.
Out of the 1,693 refugee applications of 2011, 623 were terminated, as two thirds of the applicants travelled on in the meantime, and all in all only 145 people got status.
According to last year’s data, out of the 177,135 applications 152,260 had to be terminated (as likely the applicant had travelled on), which adds up to 85 percent of all the applications. Last year 507 asylum seekers got either refugee- or the subsidiary protection-status. If we subtract the number of those who travelled on to Europe from the total number of applicants, the result is that, out of all genuine applications, in 2011 13 percent, while in 2015 only 2 percent got status in Hungary.
This still gives us a skewed picture, as each procedure takes many months to complete, so many will still be ongoing. The applicant’s country of origin is also a determining factor: in 2011 there were barely any Syrians among them, while in 2015 Syrians made up the largest portion of the 177 thousand applicants. They are regarded especially vulnerable due to the civil war raging in their country.
Thus, the only firm fact that can be established based on statistics is that, in the last one and a half years, a record number of refugees moved on from the country even before their procedures would have come to a conclusion.
Solidarity with the people protesting against poor conditions in the closed asylum detention center in Kiskunhalas, Hungary
People imprisoned in the closed refugee detention center of Kiskunhalas organized a protest yesterday, June 1st 2016. Today, the protest continues. They are demanding freedom to leave the prison and live in an open camp, a faster asylum procedure and better living conditions in the camp. According to Julia Ivan, a lawyer at the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, many of the protesters are people that Hungary is trying to deport to Greece with the Dublin regulation, despite the fact that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against such deportations.
Kiskunhalas is one of the asylum detention centers, where asylum seekers are kept imprisoned up to six months, without ever having committed a crime. The conditions of these camps are even worse than in the ‘open camps’ - with widespread abuse by guards and insufficient or no access to legal aid, healthcare, food, social workers, or translation (see our anti-detention campaign for more info). People are cut off from the outside, with ca 10 minutes of internet access per day and no mobile phones allowed. There is limited quality legal aid, but the many people report to us that they are simply not told where and when they may see a lawyer about their case. The Cordelia Foundation is present once or twice a month to offer psychological support.
This blog is ran by members of Migszol, it features our analyses and reflections on asylum questions in Hungary in more depth. If you would like to write a guest piece, drop us a line!