After a long winter, it was such a sunny weekend to go to Bicske on Sunday, March 13. When we arrived, we were surprised to see a bus full of people unloading. While a familiar scene up until a couple of months ago, after the establishment of the border fence we did not expect to see so many people arriving to the camp once again. . We tried to speak with the new arrivals through the gate as usual, but this time an angry guard started yelling at us to keep away from the gate, even though we did not break a single rule.
We tried to stay focused on what we were there for, so we invited people to come outside beyond the camp’s gate so that we could talk to them. We started to distribute the flyers we brought about the annual Nowruz party we were planning together with Menedék and “Let's help” group, as well as spoke to people about the CEU Open Learning Initiative (OLIve) for refugees that was about to go into its second round after a successful first semester.
Since the legal information in the camps is very limited, another goal was to communicate the most recent changes in the asylum law (see our previous blog posts for details). Most of the people we were talking to were trying to figure out how to leave Hungary towards Western Europe as soon and as safely as possible. Consequently, the recent changes in the Hungarian asylum law were among the least of their concerns: they knew that, in most likelihood, what awaits them in Hungary is homelessness.
A lot of families and single men and women of different nationalities arrived recently to the camp. Some came through the transit zones, but many entered Hungary by crawling under the fence. Most of them weren’t detained because the detention centers at this time were once again full. Also this camp was overcrowded again and people were sleeping in the gymnasium hall on mattresses since all rooms were inhabited. We hadn’t had the chance to talk to many since it was Sunday and most people prefer to stay inside their residence except those who are lucky enough to connect to the weak wireless internet that is provided by the camp’s administration. To go online, especially in winter time, is a matter of priorities: to have a chat with your family by staying outdoors freezing or remain indoors to have some heating but no connection to your friends and loved ones.
Food and health care services provided by the camp’s administration are insufficient already under normal conditions and get even worse with the increasing number of people arriving to the camp. Long queues are everywhere: for registration procedures, for food, for money, for medical help, for social services, for laundry, for using one of the very few computers, even for using the bathrooms. You are lucky if your turn is only half an hour away. In many cases, after waiting all this time, you find out that the food is finished or the doctor is already leaving, etc. This is entirely normal and you can’t complain to anyone about it, you just need to fight harder for your very basic rights the next time.
The way the camp’s administration deals with families: they presume that these families can be treated as European families would be, ignoring the fact that these families came from different locations and traditions which make them, especially women, feel insecure and their rights are violated. Women from many areas are not used to being exposed to the public and to have to share their space with strange men. Many women also feel uncomfortable having to stand in the same long queues with strangers for all basic needs. They even have to share the kitchen and the bathroom. It’s not a matter of those men being dangerous, but a matter of traditions and cultures of female modesty. The camp’s location and the long distance to the train station make people feel additionally insecure, especially at night.
Ultimately, our visit to Bicske camp ended abruptly when we were kicked out by two police officers “because of the angry guard”. That day he was apparently more conscientious than other times about the 'security' threat we pose by our proximity to the fence, simply talking with the people from the other side. Although they made it clear that there was no rule we were breaking, their sudden presence to reinforce this cryptic offense made this encounter somehow confrontational. We decided to leave. The people who had been brought on the bus in the morning were still there, quietly speaking with each other, waiting for something. Maybe they knew the procedure, and probably this was not the first camp they had seen since leaving their homes. Maybe they already learned that their journey is made of danger and cold, lacking the most basic things, but also of waiting behind fences, ordered by people speaking incomprehensible languages.
On the same day, on the other side of the country, our team tried to visit Nagyfa ‘open’ refugee camp, a facility located in East Hungary which our group knew little about but had heard several bad rumours regarding the conditions inside of it. So, with the help of Migszol Szeged and one of our members’ contacts inside the camp, we wanted to meet people staying in Nagyfa, and deliver some basic aid. However, when we approached the camp, we reached a small police post and checkpoint, which was still far from the facilities, and the security woman at the post didn't allow us to pass due to lack of required permission and she even asked for our identification cards to “ease access in the future”. As our team couldn't manage to get in, we tried to reach contacts inside the camp and encourage them to come out to talk with us. This turned out to be impossible; our contacts in the camp told us that it takes 2 hours of walking to get from inside the camp to that outer post.
Our team then tried to make use of this long trip in another way so we went to the Kelebija-Toma crossing point that a lot of refugees come through. Unfortunately, we could not meet anyone again because of lack of permission. However we were able to distribute water to be given to families arriving at this crossing point. The Kelebija-Toma crossing point has become very popular. Entire families are now being left outside and denied access to Hungarian territory to seek asylum, as Index.hu recently reported. Migszol then handed over basic donations to the Migszol Szeged team to deliver to people in need. Even despite the limited success, information and experience gained from that visit were very important.