Background of Debrecen camp
The camp is special in many ways. It is not only the largest refugee camp in Hungary, and therefore receives much of the media attention especially from the local Debrecen region media. It also has been the location of anti-camp protests by the supporters of Jobbik, the Hungarian extreme-right political party, and its Magyar Garda paramilitary group.
Most importantly, however, the camp has a very peculiar spatial set up: in the middle of the open camp, there is a detention centre (a prison, in reality, for its inhabitants). Such a set up has a severe psychological effect on all those who are present within the camp: including refugees living within the open camp, refugees detained in it, and even the camp staff and guards.
Those living in the open camp area know that if they ‘misbehave’, they also might be taken to the detention centre as punishment (several refugees have reported to MigSzol about such experiences). Those living inside the detention centre can see other refugees and asylum seekers freely walking directly beneath their windows – often without even knowing why they have been detained.
For the guards, on the other hand, the detention centre within the open camp lures them into “power tripping”. What is this? A dictionary definition of power tripping might come in handy in here: “(slang) a self-aggrandizing action undertaken simply for the pleasure of exercising control over other people” (Thesaurus). The inherently unequal power relations between those who live in the camp and those who work inside the camp are, therefore, made worse by the detention centre’s ominous presence.
Severe issues in living conditions
So, what is life really like in the camp at the moment? MigSzol spoke with many refugees and asylum seekers, most of whom were men from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Cameroon, Eritrea and Egypt, among others. Certain topics and concerns were raised by most refugees we spoke with. To give you an overall idea, here is a short selection:
• Poor hygiene “our children cannot sleep at night because they are afraid the cockroaches will climb in their ears”
• Lacking proper health care “the doctor, when he is around, gives the same pill to everyone, no matter what the health issue”
• Lack of food “they took away all the electric stoves so that we cannot cook anymore, they told us to go and buy cookers ourselves”
• The police presence and brutality “usually they come once per month, to wake us up in a raid at 4am with flashlights and dogs”
• Fear of the use of detention as a form of punishment “those who complained about police brutality were taken to detention”
Lack of quality legal aid in the camp is especially worrying. We met people who had been in the camp for two to three years with no information regarding their status. The provision of qualified legal aid for asylum seekers is the responsibility of Hungarian state. Not to mention the quality and motivation of the state lawyers, asylum seekers reported to us that lawyers provided by the Hungarian Government are simply not showing up. There is a lawyer of Hungarian Helsinki Committee who works in the camp, but the number of clients is high and as said, the provision of legal aid is first and foremost the responsibility of the Hungarian State.
Trusting that the Hungarian Government, Minister of Interior Sándor Pintér and the Director of OIN, Zsuzsanna Végh will want to adhere to the standards of international law that they are bound to, and we urge them to work together with refugees both inside and outside the camp and provide the following:
- Dignified, clean, hygienic living conditions for refugees in the camp
- Qualified legal aid to asylum seekers and communication regarding their legal status process in a language in a more understandable manner than the official and bureaucratic Hungarian language jargon that even Hungarians have trouble understanding
- An immediate stop to the practice of detention as a punishment
- An immediate ending of the detention of asylum seekers
This first MigSzol report on the Debrecen camp is only a small tip of a larger iceberg – we will focus on these issues and other themes in more depth in future MigSzol.com published posts. Thank you for following us in our investigations and we will keep you posted very soon! Please sign up for our MigSzol Info Mailing List for future information.