This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 11 September 2015.
Migrants and asylum seekers are being held in abysmal conditions in the two Roszke migrant detention centers on the Serbian border, Human Rights Watch said today after obtaining footage from inside the camp and interviewing persons currently and formerly detained there. Hungarian police intercept asylum seekers and migrants entering via Serbia and detain them for days for registration and processing in conditions that fall short of Hungary's international obligations.
“The detainees at Roszke are held in filthy, overcrowded conditions, hungry, and lacking medical care,” said Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director at Human Rights Watch. “The Hungarian authorities have an obligation to ensure that migrants and asylum seekers are held in humane conditions and that their rights are respected.”
Hungarian authorities should take urgent action to improve conditions in and around the Roszke detention centers and make sure that people have access to adequate food and water, shelter and medical care, Human Rights Watch said.
Although, UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, was recently granted access to Roszke, Hungarian authorities have not given permission to journalists or human rights organizations to visit the two police-run detention centers at the Roszke border between Serbia and Hungary, known as Hangar 1 and Hangar 2. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) has access under a long-standing tripartite border monitoring agreement between HHC, UNHCR and the Hungarian police. The agreement, however, only allows HHC access maximum once a month to police run centers on the border and limits what the organization can publicly say.
Human Rights Watch had made a formal request to visit Roszke collection center on August 31, which was rejected by the National Police in Hungary on September 2, citing “interference with police procedures.” Public access is allowed to the “collection ground” – an outdoor area approximately 500 meters from the border where police gather asylum seekers and migrants before transporting them to the Roszke centers. Human Rights Watch was able to obtain footage from Hangar 1 and interviewed 24 asylum seekers from various countries of origin including Syria and Afghanistan currently or formerly detained at the centers.
Inside Hangar 1 and Hangar 2, detainees are kept in small clusters of tents in open air pens created by metal fences, often in overcrowded conditions with insufficient bedding and space for the numbers of persons detained in the pens. Interviews with people held there established that they are given little or no information about the legal rules and safeguards governing their detention and administrative procedures followed by the Hungarian authorities. No interpreters are on permanent stand-by at the facilities, which contributes to the serious communication problems and resulting anxiety and frustration among the migrants and asylum seekers held there.
Many of those interviewed appear to have been held beyond the 36 hour limit allowed by Hungarian law for detention for police registration purposes at the border, and said they had virtually no access to medical care in detention. All of those interviewed said they received barely any edible food, and were not informed whether the food was halal – that is, suitable for Muslims to eat. Drinking water in the camps is in short supply, and many said they had resorted to drinking the unclean water provided for washing.
People described instances in which detainees experienced heart attacks, insulin shock or seizures, and that newborns with serious fevers and vomiting received no medical assistance.
“I begged them for milk for the baby and they just told me to leave,” said a man held with his wife and baby in Roszke. “We needed clean water for the baby and the other children [of other families] but police said to use the dirty water.”
The conditions at the Roszke facilities indicate that the Hungarian authorities, including the border police, lack the capacity to detain, house, and feed the growing numbers of asylum seekers and migrants in a humane manner, Human Rights Watch said. Without greater international assistance to ensure that Hungary meets basic minimum detention practices, in line with its EU obligations, migrants and asylum seekers in Hungary are likely to continue to be held at the border in dismal conditions.
Hungary is facing an influx of migrants and asylum seekers, with nearly 150,000 arrivals since the beginning of 2015 and up to 3,000 migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Hungarian border with Serbia every day in the past week. The number of asylum applications doubled in 2014, putting Hungary second – behind Sweden – for asylum applications per capita among EU countries. But the large numbers do not absolve Hungary of its legal responsibilities, including under the EU reception directive, to treat asylum seekers humanely, including where necessary by requesting assistance from international agencies or the EU, Human Rights Watch said.
Since the beginning of the year, the Hungarian government has engaged in an anti-immigrant campaign including a so-called national consultation, which included a questionnaire to eight million of its citizens that equated immigration with terrorism. In June, the government opened a nationwide billboard campaign with messages in Hungarian saying, “If you come to Hungary, you shouldn't take the jobs of Hungarians,” and “If you come to Hungary, you must respect our culture.” Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently claimed he was defending “Europe's Christian culture” from Muslims to justify his policies toward migrants and asylum seekers.
The Hungarian authorities should urgently request assistance from the United Nations and humanitarian nongovernmental organizations to better meet the needs of detained migrants and asylum seekers, and streamline the procedures they use to register asylum seekers and migrants to shorten their time in border detention, Human Rights Watch said. Facilities should be set up to meet international standards, and adequate interpreters and skilled medical personnel should promptly be deployed to the centers.
“The situation for migrants and asylum seekers in Hungary is inhumane and untenable,” Bouckaert said. “The Hungarian government, with help from fellow EU governments and the United Nations, should take concerted action to ensure it can meet its obligations to protect people and treat them humanely.”
Lack of Medical Care
The mothers of two newborn babies at the camp, both less than one month old, said that the infants had high fevers and were vomiting, but had received no medical assistance.
A young woman went into seizures after standing in the hot sun for hours in a metal pen filled with detained asylum seekers at the camp, according to witnesses and video obtained by Human Rights Watch.
A Syrian woman who gave birth at Keleti train station in Budapest two days after her release from detention, told Human Rights Watch of appalling conditions at the Debrecen asylum detention center, close to the Romanian border. She said she was kept there for three days separated from her husband in a dirty barred cell with 50 other women and children and without adequate food. Human Rights Watch did not interview others held at Debrecen and has not tried to gain access to the center.
The wife of a 57-year old man who had a heart attack at a detention facility said that he was treated with cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillators to revive him and then rushed to the hospital. But three days later, she had not been told whether he had survived.
Elian Ahmed and her husband, Rawan Ati, both 23, spent a total of five days in at least two centers on the Hungarian border with their newborn baby. Rawan Ati described the conditions at Roszke:
"When we crossed into Hungary the police sent us to a camp that was very dirty, like a place for animals. It was a closed camp and the conditions were horrible. When people tried to escape they were brought back. We slept for two days outside on towels. Nobody made special arrangements for the baby, they gave us no milk and they treated us very badly. They talked to us rudely, and they treated us very inhumanely, like we were slaves.
I begged them for milk for the baby and they just told me to leave [leave the police officer alone] in a very rude way. I tried to reason with them, saying I have a family that needs help and the policeman that he too has a family so what is the problem. We felt like prisoners and the food was so bad that we couldn't eat it. The water was dirty and barely drinkable. We needed clean water for the baby and the other children [of other families] but police said to use the dirty water."
The family spent one night locked inside a police detainee transfer vehicle with a large group:
"They told us to go to sleep at midnight and at 2 a.m. they would wake us up and move us to another camp with buses. Those five days we were not allowed to wash. Luckily we had some diapers left for the baby that we brought from Turkey. When we were taken to be fingerprinted, they locked us into a police transfer vehicle for prisoners with bars on the windows and they kept us there all night. There were about 100 people inside. Finally one woman got angry and demanded water. They gave us only one bottle of water. We spent the whole night locked into vehicle with our baby. It smelled terrible and we were all very dirty. There were about 10 children among us."
Another Syrian, Remis Shekal, 30, travelling with six children to reach her husband in Norway, said they were detained at two centers, including Roszke, for a total of four days. She described similarly bad conditions in Roszke saying that the place is “only fit for animals” and that no one explained what would happen to them or whether the food was halal. When the family refused to be fingerprinted out of fear that they would have to remain in Hungary under the Dublin regulation, which requires most asylum seekers to remain in the first EU country they entered, the police would wake them up during the night as a punishment, demanding that they go for fingerprinting.
In a second camp, which she couldn't name, she said they were locked in a room with about 70 people and only five beds. They tried to accommodate the children among them by putting camping mattresses on the floor. After two days of detention, they were told that following fingerprinting and photographing they were free to go and were put on a train to Budapest. After agreeing to be fingerprinted and photographed they were released and went on their own accord to Budapest.
On three separate visits to the Serbian side of the Serbian-Hungary border, Human Rights Watch found dozens, and at times hundreds, of persons too afraid to cross into Hungary because of the detention conditions and fingerprinting practices of the Hungarian government, fearing that they would be forced to remain in a hostile Hungary. Two families of 15, including a total of six children, told Human Rights Watch that they were sheltering on the Serbian side of the border because they were too afraid to cross the border from Serbia because of camp conditions and concerns about being forcibly fingerprinted in Hungary. They had spent three days camping out in a fruit orchard at the border. Almost all the Syrian families interviewed described their time in Roszke camp as their worst experience since arriving in Europe, and second only to the dangers of crossing by boat from Turkey to Greece.
Meanwhile, thousands of asylum seekers and migrants remain stuck at two train stations in Budapest, sleeping out in the open on the pavement without any visible humanitarian assistance from the Hungarian government. Asylum seekers and migrants normally arrive in one station, Nyugati, and subsequently make their way to Keleti train station, which has destinations to Western Europe. The Hungarian government in the first week of September prevented asylum seekers and migrants from boarding trains to Western Europe, the preferred destination for most, citing its obligations under EU regulations. It has since stopped this practice.
Journalists, human rights groups barred from entering migrant detention centres in Hungary
This statement was originally published on hrw.org on 11 September 2015.