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.
Since 2013 government policy has been to detain those that are considered at risk to leave the country during their asylum process. In reality, the practice is much more widespread, often also detaining people based on nationality or other arbitrary criteria. At the time, UNHCR criticized Hungary for making arbitrary detention systematic. According to the people we know inside the camp, currently about 90% of the refugees in Kiskunhalas were previously living in an open camp, but then have been brought to the prison after attempting to continue to Austria, while others came straight from the Serbian border. The majority of the people come from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Iran, but we have also spoken with someone hindered from returning to their home country Kosovo.
Lack of information has resulted in outrage. Most of the people in the camp don’t know why they are being held in detention. Information seems to be non-existent and there is no kind of support available within the fenced-off and heavily guarded area of the camp. According to our contact, the only time they receive updates is when their detention gets prolonged after two months. Most of the refugees are even unaware that they are still in an ongoing asylum procedure. Thus, to put it mildly, an ideal environment to produce profound discontent, disappointment, and despair.
‘As crimes pile up, they become invisible’, Bertolt Brecht once wrote. He could have easily been describing the evolution of the Hungarian asylum system. Its constant shifting and reformation, pacing fast towards escalation and disaster, and finding yet more humiliating and coercive ways to manage the survivors of the Mediterranean, the endurers of the Idomenis, the vanquishers of the fences into despair and resignation. All this does not seem shock anyone anymore, numbed from the slow abolishment of the right to asylum and the general normalization of authoritarian tendencies.
The most recent episode of the tragedy of migration in Hungary, though, was not an invisible one. Rather, once again, people had to fight themselves into the eyes of the public to have their cries for freedom heard, to be able to voice political demands. On the first day of June people in the Kiskunhalas refugee prison camp had enough. 300 of the 484 detainees initiated a protest chanting ‘freedom’ and holding a sign announcing a hunger strike. The crowd was quickly subdued by an equal number of police leading to an hours-long standoff (video).
The protesters selected three representatives to speak for them. One of them, a refugee from Syria, handed over a petition with the demands. Among them were freedom to leave the camp, faster Asylum procedures and better living conditions.The immediate and brutally uncompromising delegitimation came in the form of the government’s chief security advisor György Bakondi evoking the threat of violence by the protesters while rejecting all of the demands. While security is used as a way to legitimize repression and disregard the political demands of the migrants, the danger of violence is real. Placing people in prisons under these conditions is a recipe for escalation.
MigSzol stands in solidarity with the protesters and their demands and strongly condemns the practice of detention. MigSzol is also concerned about the long-term consequences of putting people in these conditions, certainly for them but also because of the consequences for broader society. The alienation and anger inevitably produced by these conditions can certainly not be something anyone in Hungary desires. Finally, we are deeply disappointed that several Hungarian media outlets, who so far have been critical of the Fidesz propaganda war, have now started using similar language as the government. They joined in calling the people “illegal immigrants”, judging their character without ever having spoken with them, and accusing them of merely applying for asylum because they want to stop their upcoming deportation. Migszol will protest these editorial practices by writing to the responsible media outlets and journalist to confront them directly.