“They Beat us With Everything,” Migrants at Hungarian Border

Migrants face “cruel and violent treatment” at the hands of Hungarian officials.

A scathing report issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW) reveals that migrants are severely beaten by authorities before being sent back across the border to Serbia.

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Migrants crossing into Hungary underneath the unfinished Hungary–Serbia border fence, 25 August 2015 Photo: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed

“I haven’t even seen such beating in the movies,” said one man who had been stopped inside Hungary with a group of 30-40 people, including and women.

“Five or six soldiers took us one by one to beat us. They tied our hands with plastic handcuffs on our backs. They beat us with everything, with fists, kicks and batons. They deliberately gave us bad injuries.”

Others interviewed by HRW claimed that Hungarian officials used pepper spray, set dogs on migrants, and forced people through small openings in the razor wire fence after handcuffing them, kicking them as they crawled back to the Serbian side.

“They beat all of us and they used pepper spray,” said Ali, a 20-year old from Afghanistan, “While doing this they said ‘Welcome to Hungary’ and they were laughing at us and taking selfies.”

The report also claims that the government has been dismissing the asylum claims of most single men without considering their protection needs, throwing away some cases within an hour.

Hungarian security forces have a track record of dealing with asylum seekers that enter the country in this manner.

The country built a razor wire fence in September 2015 designed to keep migrants from entering the country, and has set up two transit zones on the border with Serbia.

Refugees who wish to enter Hungary must do so through the transit zones, located on Hungarian territory. The government claims that persons in these zones have not yet entered Hungary, while at the same time acknowledging that the areas are in fact in Hungary.

This “legal fiction” allows Hungary to remove asylum seekers from the transit zones and return them to Serbia without informing the Serbian authorities.

HRW interviewed migrants who were returned to Serbia immediately after they were allowed into the transit zone. The asylum seekers, all single males, were told to sign papers they did not understand (HRW later identified them as inadmissibility decisions) and their asylum claims were rejected within hours, not nearly enough time to thoroughly review the case and identify those needing protection.

“Hungary is breaking all the rules for asylum seekers,” said Lydia Gall, HRW Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher.

Asylum seekers are allowed in the zones for a maximum 28 days without means of communicating with the outside world. They are technically allowed to leave voluntarily, but doing so will terminate the asylum procedure.

Not everyone makes it to the transit zones in the first place. HRW reports that some asylum seekers, including families with small children and pregnant women, are forced to wait several weeks outside these centres. For those outside, conditions are dismal with a lack of sanitary facilities, basic shelter, food, and items for babies and small children.

Tougher Laws for Migrants and Asylum Seekers

The government passed a new law, which entered into effect on July 5 that allows refugees and migrants who are caught within 8km of the border to be forcibly returned to the Serbian side of the fence.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) expressed concerns that “the law may result in law enforcement agencies not respecting the human rights of migrants and the violation of international law by expelling them by force without any legal procedure.”

Hungary justifies the law by claiming that Serbia is a “safe third country.” However, evidence of serious abuse by Serbian police suggests otherwise.

Hungarian police, military, and even the civil militia are all allegedly involved in the violent capturing and forced return of migrants across the border.

A particularly bloody incident occurred on May 11 involving a group of 30-40 migrants, including women and children, who attempted to cross into Hungary and were caught by authorities.

“They encircled us and told us to sit down with hands on our heads staring down,” one man recalled, “We asked for help and to go to a camp. They didn’t say anything. Four or five of them took out some white powder spray and sprayed all of us, they even lifted our heads one by one to spray our faces. All except women and children, but they still inhaled it.”

The group was then dragged back to the fence and forced to crawl through small openings in the razor wire.

“They brought plastic cuffs and tied our hands in front of our bodies. I was the first in line and all of a sudden a police officer came and sprayed my face,” another man recalled.

“I couldn’t see as he made me crawl through the razor-wire, so I cut my leg and hands badly… he started kicking the fence to make the razor injure me. He then kept kicking my butt to make me crawl faster through the fence. My eyes were full of tears and my hands cuffed in front of me. They swore and laughed at me during the whole time.”

Another migrant claimed that authorities let the dogs on him before he crossed the fence back to Serbia.

Unaccompanied children were among those abused, HRW reports.