For one, there are strategic reasons. Orbán is appeasing the mayor of Debrecen, a major political ally, by following up on a promise he made in May to “improve” the situation and close the camp. It does not seem to be entirely clear what the space of the camp will be used for. There have been rumors about plans of building a new shopping-mall on its territory as well as ideas about housing the riot police in the abandoned camp. At the same time, Fidesz continues to appeal to right-wing voters. Towards this end, the closure of the camp instigates and seeks to politically instrumentalize the (alleged) public unease with a big refugee camp.
As per the government’s general approach to the refugee crisis, Orbán acts as if there was a conflict between providing for ‘the Hungarian people’ and aiding refugees - a false distinction, the racist and bigoted foundation of which we have repeatedly pointed out and criticized. Thus, the decision to close the camp also directly addresses and seeks to intimidate the many different people that are fleeing from their home countries in search of a better future in Hungary. Let us not forget, this is, after all, a fundamental human right - in spite of all the proclamations by the Hungarian government to the contrary. Alas, whoever makes it here despite the draconian border regime finds themselves with as little support as possible from the Hungarian state. The message this is supposed to send is clear: stay out and don’t even come!
At a time at which the EU is hotly debating and pushing for the introduction of a quota system to distribute responsibilities for refugees across the union, closing one of the largest refugee camps in the country therefore also sends a clear message to EU policy makers: under the Orban government, Hungary does not intend to take such responsibilities. This might further alienate Hungary from the EU - and it could be costly for the government, not only in terms of the condemnation it has received for its hostile stance on people seeking international protection. Since the camp was largely sustained through EU funds - notwithstanding that the government neglected to run the camp in a way confirming to EU standards - Hungary might now have to pay back a substantial amount.
In light of the above, let us be very clear: at MigSzol, we are campaigning for the closing of camps like the one in Debrecen. So one might think we should welcome the decision to close the camp. But we are not - because it is done for the wrong reasons and only worsens the situation of people seeking international protection. No alternative is offered as to how to provide for asylum seekers in need. The closing of Debrecen camp now occurs in the context of the government’s isolationist efforts to completely withdraw itself from any responsibility to provide help to refugees. The fact that the options of how the space of the camp is to be used in the future are between building a shopping mall and housing the riot police showcases the government’s ideology very concisely: help for those in need is forgone in favor of opportunities for consumption or state power.
Consequently, the many problems that MigSzol has been pointing out for a long time already remain: asylum and integration detention deprives people of all their privacy and autonomy. The physical and geographic isolation from the society hinders any meaningful integration, which makes it possible to vilify refugees and asylum-seeker in turn. Moreover, the placement of the camps often makes it harder for people to find a place to live outside. In all camps across Hungary, living conditions are appalling: as we have repeatedly pointed out, the camps are often severely overcrowded, there is a general lack of food, bed bugs and other hygiene problems are common. The closure of the Debrecen camp only make matters in other facilities worse.
As you can see, the introduction of the amendments to the refugee law on September 15th had an impact on the numbers of asylum seekers entering the country for exactly three days before it rose tenfold again. The closing of Debrecen camp is hence not only happening for all the wrong reasons. The government’s xenophobic policies also violate the basic right everybody enjoys to migrate when they feel the need to do so (for whichever reason; this is their legitimate right!). We can all see it very clearly, they won’t be stopped by border fences and police controls. All this accomplishes is an aggravation of the problem by criminalizing a huge number of vulnerable people in need of help.
Thus, we demand that the government offers a real alternative solution to detaining and isolating asylum seekers in camps! What is needed is decentralized housing for people in a way that makes it possible for them to build a live in Hungary. The policy the government has been adopting towards people who seek protection is not only unproductive in solving the problem of decent housing but also deprives them of any autonomy to lead their lives as equal members of Hungarian society.
Given the large amount of support for refugees demonstrated by the Hungarian civil society, it is all the more shocking to see that the government is still working to make the situation for refugees in Hungary ever more unbearable.