Tag Archives: refugees

Life in the Hungarian transit zones

The other day I happened upon an opinion piece in Magyar Idők written by Georg Spöttle, one of the many somewhat mysterious national security experts attracted to the Orbán government. He is allegedly a retired German army officer who has permanently settled in Hungary. His background is murky, as one can see from an interview he gave to Magyar Nemzet in 2002.

Spöttle’s op-ed piece was supposed to quiet the hysteria created by Magyar Idők, a Fidesz MP, and three mayors in the Lake Balaton area over the vacation plans of Migration Aid for a few asylum seekers. But Spöttle spent about half of the article on the conditions in the two by now infamous transit zones set up by the Hungarian government for refugees waiting for an official decision on their cases.

Access to the zones at Röszke and Tompa is severely limited. In addition to organizations of the United Nations, six aid organizations can visit the camps. Spöttle, due to his privileged position, had no problem paying a visit and gave a glowing report on the circumstances that exist there. If he had to choose between “a transit zone in Berlin and Röszke,” he would choose the latter. Let’s not quibble over the fact that Berlin has no transit zones like the ones the Hungarians set up along the Serbian-Hungarian border. The Hungarian accommodations are actually prisons, from which the only escape route leads back to Serbia. According to Spöttle, the mostly Afghan families who currently live there are enjoying the few weeks they have to spend in containers enclosed by a barbed-wired fence and under heavy guard. He saw many smiling and waving children playing football.

This description is in stark contrast to what others who are familiar with the conditions in these transit zones report. A couple of refugees who, after spending some time in the Tompa camp decided to return to Serbia, described the conditions there. Apparently, this particular camp has five separate “sectors” sealed tight with a four-meter barbed-wire fence around each. Inhabitants of one sector cannot cross to another. Each sector has about 70-80 people, including 20 children who had to share a 10×10 m area. The metal containers are not air-conditioned and are therefore unbearably hot, especially given the sweltering weather this year in Hungary. There is no shade, not even any grass, only white gravel. Each person is heavily guarded. A UN official described a scene where a sick man was escorted 20-30 meters to the doctor in the other sector by five armed guards. People who had to visit a hospital are handcuffed. All in all, the conditions are horrendous and, what is more important, illegal. Also, apparently the quality and quantity of food is inadequate, especially in the case of children and pregnant women. Add to all this uncaring officials and guards. The two men could recall only one decent person in the whole bunch, a blonde woman who would actually say hello and smile at the children. Of course, the Hungarian authorities deny these charges and claim that there are all sorts of amenities the former inmates and UN observers failed to notice, like the availability of Arab-language television channels and playrooms for the children.

Source: Index / Photo András Földes

All this sounds pretty bad, but the story Index reported about a week ago is truly hair-raising. It is about an Iranian-Afghan couple with three children and a fourth on its way. The wife’s first husband was killed by members of the Taliban and she was raped, but eventually she managed to escape to Iran where she married an Iranian. The family for political reasons left Iran and ended up in Greece, where a human trafficker insisted that they split up. The woman and the children went by car and the husband hid in a truck. The husband made it, but the wife and children were caught in Macedonia.

In our technologically advanced age the husband knew precisely the whereabouts of his family and decided to go to Macedonia to pick them up. He made the mistake of traveling through Hungary on his way south and was caught and placed in a sealed refugee camp. In order to get out of the camp as soon as possible, he decided to seek asylum in Hungary. After four months spent in what amounted to jail and having been denied asylum, he crossed the Serbian-Hungarian border on his way to Macedonia, where he was reunited with his family. They turned north and in April 2017 reached the Hungarian border, where they were placed in one of the transit zones. But then came the real surprise. Since the husband had been denied asylum by the Hungarian authorities, he is not entitled to food rations while locked up in the transit zone. So, he must live on the leftovers of the rations his wife and two older children receive, which are meager. The smallest child gets powdered milk. In the last three months he received three food packages from the Red Cross, the Hungarian Reformed Church, and the Hungarian Ecumenical Aid Organization.

The paddy wagon / Photo taken by the Iranian husband

The wife, seven months pregnant, would need regular medical checkups, but the only means of transportation is a paddy wagon travelling on a dirt road. She is afraid to sit down on the very narrow wooden seat, fearing injury, but standing is not exactly a safe solution either. She is fearful of losing the baby and is getting more and more distraught. According to the husband, “one of the officers told us that if we want a car in which she can sit down they will bring one for 50 euros, which we don’t have.” How absolutely disgusting.

I haven’t found this particular story yet in the foreign media, but news of the cruel treatment of asylum seekers by Hungarian authorities has been spreading all over the world. Although it is the current Hungarian government that in the final analysis is responsible for this inhumane treatment of the refugees, unfortunately there are just far too many enablers who are ready to lend assistance and support to the government. The powers-that-be have been inculcating fear in the citizens, which by now has morphed into widespread hatred of all outsiders. Index asked at the beginning of its article on the Iranian-Afghan family: “What do you think of a country, dear reader, which treats a family with small children this way?” Indeed, what do you think?

August 17, 2017

Hungarian politicians and Migration Aid’s “migrant resorts”

By now, I’m sure, many readers of Hungarian Spectrum who regularly follow the English- or Hungarian-language news from Hungary have heard the story of those refugee families who were offered the opportunity to spend a few days in a village at the edge of Kis-Balaton, a huge wetland habitat. As is clear from the name, the place is only a few kilometers from Lake Balaton. An Austrian benefactor offered three cabins to Migration Aid International, an Open Society Foundation-supported organization that is helping both the refugees who are still being kept in transit zones along the Serbian-Hungarian border and those who have been released and have been granted asylum and are currently under the “protection” (oltalom) of the Hungarian state. In the rest of this post you will see what this “protection” means in the current harsh reality of the Orbán regime.

Cutting to the chase: a Fidesz member of parliament, three mayors in the vicinity of those three cabins, and some of the less than charitable and enlightened inhabitants of the three towns swore that no refugee can have a vacation near them. They don’t care about these people’s legal status. They don’t want them nearby. In fact, as one of the mayors said, they don’t want them anywhere in Hungary.

Source: abcug.hu / Photo: András Hajdú

Many articles have been written on the subject in Hungarian, and yesterday The Budapest Beacon published a detailed summary of what happened in Keszthely, Hévíz, and Zalavár, three towns located in one of the busiest tourist areas of Hungary. Since the disgraceful story can be read elsewhere, I will approach the topic from a different angle. I wanted to discover its genesis.

It looks as if the journalists of Magyar Idők regularly check Migration Aid’s Facebook page. There they learned, most likely on August 2, that the organization’s activists were planning to spend the weekend getting the three cabins ready to receive the first three families. The journalist who got the job of inciting public opinion against Migration Aid and its plans was Áron Nagy, who subsequently wrote five articles on the unacceptability of allowing “migrants” to vacation anywhere near Lake Balaton.

The very first article was, most likely purposely, misleading. According to Nagy, “Migration Aid International in the outskirts of [Keszthely] is planning to give temporary accommodations to asylum seekers let out of the transit zones.” Migration Aid’s Facebook page was very specific about the status of the refugees. They were not asylum seekers. They already received asylum in Hungary. Migration Aid was equally clear about using the cabins for the purpose of providing short vacations for people in desperate need of some normalcy. The total news value of this article was the sentence I just quoted. The rest of the 450-word article was filler that besmirched the reputation of Migration Aid and made sure everybody knows it is connected to George Soros’s foundation.

The news spread quickly and naturally reached the local internet news site, Zalai Hírlap Online (zaol.hu), which got in touch with András Siewert, the operative coordinator of Migration Aid. Zaol.hu’s handling of the story was a great deal more professional than Magyar Idők‘sThey went to Migration Aid’s Facebook page and accurately quoted the description of the organizations’ plans for the cabins. Siewert explained that these people want to stay in Hungary and the organization is trying to acquaint them with Hungary’s history and culture. Zaol.hu asked whether Migration Aid was concerned about any negative local reaction, to which Siewert’s answer was that since the neighbors are mostly Austrians and Germans they don’t anticipate any trouble. What a sad commentary on the state of mind of Hungarians after two years of hate mongering.

By that time it became known that the three cabins are situated in the outskirts of Zalavár, a village of 1,000 inhabitants. Ildikó Horváth, the mayor of the village, learned about the refugees from Magyar Idők but found out only from zaol.hu that the three cabins are situated in Zalavár. Her reaction was swift: “As soon as this information reached me I took the necessary steps,” which “will serve the interests of the villagers.” What the mayor of Keszthely, a city 13 km. away, had to do with three cabins in Zalavár is hard to fathom. But it was clear from the zaol.hu article that by that time the mayors of the whole region had been in touch with one another, and they swore that they would use “all legal means” to prevent the families from vacationing anywhere nearby. Jenő Manninger, the Fidesz member of parliament representing the district, admitted that the visit of these families doesn’t mean permanent settlement, but this scheme of Migration Aid is dangerous nonetheless because it is part of the “Soros plan.” He added that “the authorities are already investigating the legal possibilities of preventing the organization of such camping holidays.”

In the next few days Magyar Idők did its very best to further incite public opinion against the migrants and their “vacationing.” Áron Nagy got in touch with Ferenc Ruzsics, the mayor of Keszthely, who said that these people have no place anywhere in the country. He accused Migration Aid of being underhanded, although we know that the organization announced its plans on Facebook. Magyar Idők also got in touch with Manninger, who announced that “in no way can the migrants settle, even if at the moment their camping is legally possible.” Quite a claim by a legislator who ought to know that these people have the legal right to settle wherever their hearts desire in the territory of Hungary.

Two days later Áron Nagy was at it again. In his article dated August 5 he complained that Migration Aid persists on going through with the original plan despite the outcry of the locals. In order to fill space, he went on and on about the exact location of the three cabins and tried to find contradictions in different journalistic accounts of the events. The whole article was a pitiful attempt at blackening the name of Migration Aid.

On the same day Áron Nagy also published an opinion piece titled “Migránssimogató” (Migrant Stroking), in which he proudly took credit for “exposing” Migration Aid. As a result of his first article, “those Hungarians who are considered by Brussels to be retarded folks disposed to fascist ideas cried out from Zalavár to Keszthely: not one of them here.”

And if that weren’t enough, Áron Nagy with a colleague, Kriszta Gidró, wrote another article on August 7 in which the duo repeated all their objections to Migration Aid as well as to “migrant resorts” anywhere in Hungary. They were especially infuriated by András Siewert’s insistence that migrants can live wherever they want and that in the future Migration Aid will continue to organize vacations for those who have already been granted asylum. Siewert also said that they have no obligation to ask permission to organize such outings. The journalists found it upsetting that “Migration Aid will continue to pursue its refugee advocacy actions.”

This story, I believe, is a good example of the way the Hungarian population is being indoctrinated, with the assistance of the government media in the service of Viktor Orbán’s policies. It is a shameful story of manipulation and duplicity.

August 9, 2017

Hungary is unique after all: Pew research on terrorism and refugees

A couple of days ago the Pew Research Center published a survey taken between February 16 and May 8 in 38 countries, asking about the respondents’ sense of threats to national security. People were supposed to rank eight things they consider to be truly threatening as far as their well-being is concerned. Heading the list were “Islamic militant group known as ISIS” (62%) and “global climate change” (61%). Cyber attacks (51%), condition of the global economy (51%), large number of refugees (39%), U.S. power and influence (35%), Russia’s power and influence (31%), and China’s power and influence (31%) followed in that order.

The 38 countries surveyed are widely scattered, and naturally their concerns vary according to their particular geographic and cultural settings. For example, South American countries found “global climate change” a greater problem than ISIS. In European countries the large number of refugees was obviously a greater concern than, let’s say, in Vietnam or Chile. But in all countries, including European ones, the fear of terrorism was greater than alarm over the refugees. There was one exception, not just among European countries but on all four continents: Hungary. Hungarians dread refugees (66%) more than they worry about terrorism (64%). To compare Hungary to some of its fellow EU members, here are some figures. In France, which had its share of terrorist attacks, people rightfully consider terrorism a very serious threat (88%), but only 39% think that the large number of refugees is something one has to seriously worry about. In Germany there is even less anxiety about the refugees despite their large influx (28%), while 79% believe ISIS to be a serious menace. Even in Poland, a country whose population receives similar messages from the government as do Hungarians, the fear of terrorism is slightly higher (66%) than concern about refugees (60%).

The only explanation I have for this phenomenon is the success of the massive brainwashing by the incessant government propaganda against the “migrants” that has been going on for more than two years. The official of the Hungarian Fencing Association who, while visiting Leipzig, saw marauding refugees all over the place was most likely under the influence of this propaganda campaign. All he heard about the German situation at home programmed him to see a country under siege by invading Africans and Middle Easterners.

His case calls to mind an article I read yesterday in The Guardian about the Norwegian anti-immigrant group Fedrelandet viktigst (Fatherland First), which mistook a photograph of six empty bus seats for a group of women wearing burqas. When the group posted the photo on Facebook, racist commenters went wild. One of the more telling comments was: “I thought it would be like this in the year 2050, but it is happening NOW.”

Those frightening burqas

Of course, the Hungarian anti-refugee propaganda is promulgated not only on huge billboards but also in the government media, which by now means almost all print newspapers, especially the regional papers. I think it is enough to point out, as an illustration of the seriousness of the situation, that Lőrinc Mészáros alone owns 200 regional papers, all of which spout the same pro-government propaganda. And these regional papers are still read by large numbers of people.

The flagship of the government media is Magyar Idők, in which I found a typical article by Gábor Czakó, a writer whom the Orbán government found worthy of the Kossuth Prize, the highest prize a Hungarian writer can receive, in 2011. I must admit that I have never read anything by this man, but his name sounded familiar. After a bit of research I found the occasion on which I encountered Czakó’s name. In 2012, in a television conversation, Czakó extolled the habit of men physically punishing their wives and children. He told a family story in which a fisherman, who came home only every two weeks, found that his wife in his absence didn’t do any housework. He finally became tired of the situation and beat her. The beating did miracles. She became, at least for the next two weeks, a perfect wife. As he put it, “she practically begged for the beating.” Czakó, the father of seven, also explained that his beating of his boys was always done with due preparation “because if you lose your head you will beat him until blood flows.”

So, now that you know something about the author, let’s see what wise thoughts he has on the present refugee crisis. According to Czakó, these refugees are part of an army of conquerors who came to wage war “against us and our civilization of thousands of years.” They are colonizers whose aim is to make slaves of the inhabitants of Europe. They came to destroy the nations of the continent. The liquidation of nations is a necessary element of the Islamic conquest, which rests on religious foundations. With the destruction of nations comes “the loss of love, culture, family, and the values of the common past.” Czakó’s projected new world will be devoid of friendship, loyalty, perseverance, self-sacrifice, and bravery. Truth will also disappear. The conspirators behind this invasion are “creating a babelic world without truth.” This image of the Armageddon that will be created by the refugees is meant to be terrify Hungarians, to poison their souls and stupefy their minds.

This is the kind of vision Hungarians have been confronted with day in and day out. And with time the claims of the mortal danger to European civilization become increasingly forceful and harrowing. It’s no wonder that in the Pew Research Institute’s study Hungary stands alone, with an obviously warped sense of reality.

August 3, 2017

Hungary’s transit zones are actually prisons where even pregnant women are handcuffed

This post is the English translation of a Hungarian-language article that originally appeared in Index on June 12. The staff of The Budapest Sentinel translated this report, which gives us an inside look at life in these notorious transit zones. I’m grateful to the editor of The Budapest Sentinel for permission to republish it here.

Background

  • The Hungarian government set up transit zones along the border as a place for those fleeing war to request international protection.
  • These transit zones operate as though they are located in a “no man’s land”. In other words, Hungarian law does not necessarily apply at these locations. Until now, we had no knowledge of what happens behind the gates of these transit zones because the public access to these areas is restricted.
  • We found two families in Serbia who fled the Hungarian transit zones. The respective heads of these families, Labib (L) and Mohamed (M) spoke to us of humiliating treatment, prison-like conditions, and starving children.
  • Tímea Kovács, an attorney with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, met with asylum-seekers in one of the containers at a transit zone. Kovács spoke to us about handcuffed pregnant women. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees workers are allowed access to the transit zones. UNHCR press officer Ernő Simon helped us reconstruct what is happening behind the barbed-wire fence.

Prison conditions

Labib: There were five sectors at the Tompa transit zone. You could not travel from one sector to the other because a four-meter-high barbed-wire fence enclosed each sector and there were cameras in every corner. We had a small, ten-by-ten area where we sat all day.

Mohamed: There were two families in one container. Seventy to eighty people in one sector, of which about twenty were children, with one pregnant woman and a woman suffering from cancer. The police never talked to us. All the officials were women. They spoke harshly to us. If I asked them for a diaper, they just yelled “no” back at me. There was only one normal person there, a blonde lady, who treated us as human beings. She would greet us, smile at the children, and ask us them how they were doing. The children had one swing, and they would argue [over who gets to sit on it] all day long. Adults would sit in a small area in between the containers, looking at the barbed-wire or the sky. We would cry inside so the children would not see.

Labib: Upon arriving [at the transit zone], everyone was happy. But after a few days, everyone felt like a criminal. The conditions broke us. We were not allowed to go anywhere. The guards and police did not concern themselves with us. My 11-year-old son was kidnapped when we lived in Iraq, he was seriously traumatized, but no one concerned themselves with him. They didn’t have a kind word to say to him. My wife was sick but they did not care.

Ernő Simon – UNHCR: There are four sectors, each sector is bordered by a high, barbed-wire fence. The containers are placed in a manner to prevent people from moving from one sector to the other. The containers used by [the authorities] are air-conditioned, but there is no air-conditioner in the containers where the asylum-seekers are kept. The containers heat up as the day grows hot. The open areas of each sector are practically prison yards for the condemned. The white gravel makes it very dusty. There is no shade. This is no place to keep humans.

Tímea Kovács – Hungarian Helsinki Committee: The people kept in the transit zones feel as though they live in a prison, not a camp. A mother’s story about what her child asked her is very telling: “What have you done, mother, to deserve being locked in a prison?” The gates, armed guards, police with rubber batons, and restricted movement only reinforce the feeling that this is prison. The situation grows worse in that no one knows just how long they will be locked up.

Malnourishment, starving children

Mohamed: It was problematic that we were only offered four spoons of baby food per day. It didn’t matter that we asked for more, they wouldn’t give it to us. If a hungry child cried at night, we had to notify the police, who then notified an employee there who then looked through paperwork for the child’s name. It was a long process.  The child would constantly cry. At the end of this process, the child would receive two spoons of food, and they told us that we would not be able to ask for food until noon the following day.

We were given two diapers a day, and there was no bottled water. We had to mix the baby food with tap water. We would have heated the water but that was forbidden.

Labib: The feeding was very monotonous. There was no fruit, no vegetables. For breakfast, we received canned food and bread. For lunch, noodles and chicken. For dinner, canned food and bread. Poor medical attention and pregnant women in handcuffs.

Mohamed: Our two-month-old son became sick in the transit zone. The doctor was less than ten meters away from our zone, separated from us by a big fence. With my child in my hands, they escorted me — two police in front and two behind. Two police came into the doctor’s room with us. I felt as though my child and I are criminals.

Labib: If you had to visit the doctor, you were escorted by five police officers. On your way to the doctor, you could see people locked in cages, but you were not allowed to speak to them. You could see police and fences everywhere. This was psychological warfare. The doctor really only provided first aid. They just gave you a pill and that was that.

Tímea Kovács – Hungarian Helsinki Committee: The situation for pregnant women is especially hard because there is no assistance for them. They do not even receive vitamins, nor are they fed vegetables or fruits. And it’s especially hot inside the containers.

Last month, there was a woman who was escorted to the doctor in handcuffs. Because her stomach was large, they did not handcuff her from behind, but from the front. We haven’t seen instances like these in the past few weeks. But there was one mother who should have been taken to the hospital. Because she insisted that her child not see her in handcuffs, she declined to go to the doctor.

Ernő Simon – UNHCR: The sick are escorted to the doctor by police. There was one individual that was escorted 25-30 meters to the doctor by five armed guards. If someone must be taken to the hospital, they are handcuffed and escorted by police. All this despite not being guilty of anything. They came to Hungary to receive asylum.

Psychological warfare

Labib: After arriving, everyone is immediately taken to be interrogated. This took our family about 9-10 hours. We were interrogated one at a time, and were locked in a container for an entire day.  When we needed to use the restroom, we were escorted by police as though we were criminals. The purpose of these interrogations was to break us. They tried to upset us. They asked us religiously-sensitive questions — for instance, whether I would be open to changing my religion. I told the interrogator that I would switch to the Christian faith if she converted to the Muslim faith. She laughed, then continued asking questions.

Mohamed: My wife and I were each interrogated for four hours. They tried to corner us into answering questions in a certain way, and asked us questions for which we did not know the answers. For instance, why is there an eagle in the Iraqi parliament? I don’t know this because I am Kurdish and lived in the Autonomous Kurdish Region. I have never been to Baghdad. We didn’t even learn about Iraqi things in school.

Labib: The questions presupposed that we are in Hungary because of money. For instance, why didn’t we just stay in Iraq and live off the money we spent on our journey here. It didn’t matter that I was once a successful businessman and that we left because my 11-year-old child was taken by kidnappers for ransom. The kidnappers gave my child back when I paid them 50,000 dollars. Later they kidnapped me and shot me, and only let me go after I gave them 70,000 dollars. It was then that we sold everything we had and fled. It did not matter [to the interrogator] that I said I would never recoup the money it cost to flee [Iraq] even after working for five years, or that we fled not because of money but because of terror.

Mohamed: We did not receive water or food during the four-hour interrogation. And there was no restroom. By the end of it, I almost wet myself. That is when I told them that I must go outside. Two police escorted me to the restroom and stood next to me as I relieved myself. The interrogator asked me things like, “Say five negative things about Serbia.” This is where I had to say bad things about Serbia because if I would have said anything nice, they would have sent me back. I told them that Serbia does not care for human rights, they mistreated us, and they did not care for us adequately — but this is more true for Hungary.

Tímea Kovács – Hungarian Helsinki Committee: For families, these interviews take a long time and they are not offered any food or drink, nor do they know that they can use the restroom if they need to. They are not informed that they can request that an attorney be present, so they never have that opportunity. We also found out that the Hungarian authorities give no consideration to documents presented by these people, copies of such documents, threatening letters, or any documents clarifying their situation.

Retreat to Serbia

Mohamed: My child was very sick — choking. I took my child to the doctor every day but it didn’t matter that I said the medication wasn’t helping, we were only offered one spray and nothing else. By the end, the situation was so bad we were afraid our child would die. Our child could not keep milk down and vomited, nothing would stay in the stomach. We asked the Hungarian authorities to deport us back to Kurdistan. They said they would but first they would take us to Budapest, lock me in jail, separate me from my wife and child — who they would lock up somewhere else. We would not be able to see each other and only after that they would decide when and how we would be deported. They intimidated us. That is why we decided to come back to Serbia. Our child received medical care here and became better. We are given an entire box of baby food and even five diapers per day if we need it.

Labib: We were there for fifteen days. My wife was sick and it didn’t matter that I told them she needs to be taken to the doctor because she needs an operation. I wrote a letter to the [managers of the transit zone] telling them that this is a prison, not a camp, and that we would go back to Serbia if they did not take my wife to the hospital. Half an hour later, a supervisor arrived accompanied by two police officers. They gave me a plastic bag, told us to gather our belongings and to head back to Serbia. We told them that it is nighttime and asked whether we could just leave in the morning so that we could have a place to sleep. They told us to leave immediately. My family – myself, my four children and my sick wife – were put out on the border at night. I asked for them to give us a document showing that we asked to go back [to Serbia] on our own will. They told us we would get nothing. I asked for an attorney but they didn’t care.

Here in Serbia, I asked them to deport us. My wife would have been operated on in Serbia, but we waited to gain entry into Hungary because we thought that Europe would be better. I now have a different opinion of Europe. Disappointing. If we die, we might as well die at home.

The UN says all of this is unlawful.

“Not only are transit zones in critical condition but the entire system has problems,” the UNHCR’s top representative tells Index.

“It’s absurd and unacceptable that children and adults have their freedom of movement restricted and are locked behind bars by Hungarian authorities. This is especially a problem for the children, who should never be locked behind bars. On top of all this, we just don’t know how long children and adults are being locked up. The asylum procedures can last months, even up to a year,” says Ernő Simon.

“These children and adults did not commit crimes. They exercised a fundamental right that is guaranteed by international treaties: they have asked for asylum. What’s more, these people are not climbing over fences, they have done what the Hungarian authorities have asked of them and registered at the transit zones. Nothing justifies their detainment, except that they officially submitted their asylum request in Hungary. Hungarian authorities are punishing those who choose to exercise their right to asylum.”

The Office of Immigration and Nationality says none of this is true

We asked the immigration authority why they keep innocent people in prison-like conditions, why they handcuff pregnant women, and why the provide poor care. They told us that there is no truth to what our sources – asylum-seekers independent of one another, the lawyer, and the UNHCR – have said. Our questions and the immigration authority’s unabridged responses are the following.

  1. Parents with small children have said that they receive limited amounts of food, and that if a crying child asks for more, then they will receive less the following day. Why do the children not receive enough food?

This statement is simply not true. There are no limits to the amount of food for toddlers. The baby food is prescribed by a pediatrician and the food is ensured for babies and toddlers. Baby food and fruit sauce is provided in unlimited quantities for children aged four to six-months-old, respectively.

  1. We were informed of two pregnant women that were taken to the hospital in handcuffs when they needed medical attention. Why was it necessary to handcuff these pregnant women?

Without knowing the dates of the transport of these women, we must refute these statements. Documents in our possession show that six expecting women were placed in the transit zones, and none of them were transported to a health-care facility in handcuffs.

  1. Why is it necessary to handcuff those asylum-seekers who depart the transit zone to visit the doctor or for other reasons?

It is not necessary, and is only done in certain rare instances when justified under the law, for example when the person poses a risk to themselves or others.

  1. Which law lays out the circumstances under which it is justified to handcuff someone when that person is not being charged with any crime?

The curtailing of personal freedoms is established by the 1994 CCCIV law on law enforcement. (Index writes this is not justification).

  1. Asylum-seekers are afforded limited movement, having only a 10×10 m yard without shade if they choose to move around. Do you plan on changing this?
  2. Does [the immigration] authority not consider the restriction of movement to be inhumane treatment?

A solution to provide shade is under way. The opportunity to move around is not restricted for any asylum-seekers. What’s more, on April 6, 2017, you could have personally seen that asylum-seekers had access to sporting equipment.

  1. An individual we interviewed states that his wife – who needed hospital care – was only allowed to visit the camp’s doctor despite having documentation that indicated she may need surgery. Who decides whether someone is in need of a specialist physician?

The doctor decides whether a specialist physician is needed in every case.

  1. An individual we interviewed claims to have written a letter pointing out the lack of adequate medical care and stating that [they] would leave the camp and return to Serbia if they do not receive care from a doctor. Half an hour after submitting the letter, they were removed from the transit zone at night — a family with four children. They asked to be allowed to stay until the morning, but were not afforded the opportunity. Why were these asylum-seekers and families needing medical attention treated so strictly?

The authorities do not force anyone to leave the transit zone. The asylum-seekers leave the transit zone for Serbia when they so choose.

  1. Does [the immigration authority] plan to improve conditions at the transit zones? If so, what kind of changes can be expected?
  2. If there will not be any changes, is that because [the immigration authority] is satisfied with the conditions?

When designing the transit zone, we paid special attention to the divided sectors (separating single men from single women, and unaccompanied minors over the age of 14 and families) to make conditions as comfortable as possible. All sectors have ecumenical prayer rooms, wifi is provided, as is the ability to watch television with several Arab-language stations. Sports equipment is provided, and the family sectors have playrooms. Social workers from the the Immigration and Refugee Affairs Agency organize activities for the children during the day (drawing, painting, etc.).

  1. Is it true that asylum-seekers lose their right to submit asylum claims in Hungary if they return to Serbia?

It is not true. According to the regulations, the applicant who chooses to leave the country is not restricted from applying for asylum in Hungary again.

A Kurdish news agency even reported on the inhumane conditions

At the end of May, several asylum-seekers began to protest the poor conditions at the camp. They asked their children to hold up signs calling attention to the prison-like conditions. The protest made it all the way to Iraqi Kurdistan, where local papers reported on the Hungarian situation.

The Hungarian Consulate responded to the article, refuting the claims of the asylum-seekers and the UN. According to Csaba Vezekényi, the conditions at the transit zone are ideal, there are sports, and the children can spend the entire day on a playground.

Vezekényi also said that the transit zone was built for those who illegally enter Hungary. He misled the foreign newspaper’s reporter because the transit zones are used by the Hungarian state to treat cruelly all those who – acting in good faith – legally sought entry into Hungary after waiting in Serbia for months.

June 14, 2017

The Hungarian government was caught again: Police brutality was not fake news

Two days ago I quotedThe New York Times editorial that harshly condemned the Hungarian government’s inhumane treatment of the refugees. The Orbán government never leaves such criticism unanswered. In the past ambassadors or government spokesmen responded directly. This time, however, Zoltán Kovács, head of the international communication office, chose a different route. He published an article on an English-language site called About Hungary, which is pretty clearly the product of his own office. By the way, the amount of propaganda aimed at foreign audiences is staggering. There is already an internet website called Hungary Today, which is allegedly a privately funded publication but in fact is being financed by the government. Just today I learned of a publication called Globe’s Magazine, allegedly published by a company called Globimpex. As far as I can ascertain, it is actually financed by the Hungarian ministry of foreign affairs and trade.

The content of About Hungary deserves further investigation, but for the time being let’s just concentrate on Kovács’s answer to The New York Times. In the article Kovács explains to the editorial board of the paper that they don’t know what they are talking about. He assumes total ignorance on the part of Americans, who need to be told that inside the Schengen Area freedom of movement across borders of member states is unrestricted. “You’ll never hear [the word] terrorism from The New York Times and their ilk. Yes, it’s politically incorrect, but it’s today’s reality.” This last sentence in particular was music to the ears of the editors of Breitbart News. They promptly published practically the whole letter. In this way, given the large readership of Breitbart, Kovács’s lecture to the ignorant liberals who don’t want to talk about terrorism received a wide, and I assume receptive, audience.

Interestingly enough, Kovács didn’t try to deny the cruel treatment of the refugees. On the contrary. “It is easy to be charmed by the human rights nonsense when you’re penning editorials from an office in Midtown Manhattan. But we’re running a government responsible for the safety and security of our citizens—as well as the citizens of Europe—on the front lines of this crisis, and we see this struggle differently.”

This was not the earlier position of the government. On March 7 György Bakondi, Viktor Orbán’s adviser on internal security issues, gave an interview to ATV in which he denied any police abuse of the refugees at the Serbian-Hungarian border. During fairly aggressive questioning by Egon Rónai, Bakondi exclaimed: “Can you imagine that our soldiers and policemen beat these people? Can you imagine that our men lie? Dog bites? There are dogs but they all have muzzles on. Don’t we trust our own soldiers?” They know nothing about any abuse ever happening at the border and therefore there is nothing to investigate, Bakondi announced.

A couple of days later János Lázár and Zoltán Kovács at their joint Thursday performance repeated the same line. They categorically denied any wrongdoing on the part of either the policemen or the soldiers. It’s the refugees who lie. Viktor Orbán basically said the same thing during the press conference he gave in Brussels when he claimed that “we don’t know anyone who became injured in the territory of Hungary.” All injured persons were registered in Serbia. The media again wants to “confuse the policemen and the soldiers.”

A telling drawing by a refugee / Source: migszol.com

It was inevitable that the truth would emerge sooner and later. In fact, on the very next day Magyar Nemzet learned from the chief prosecutor’s office that since September 2015, 44 abuse cases had been reported, most of which were dropped “in the absence of a crime.” In five cases the police are still investigating. Who reported these cases? Sometimes the plaintiffs themselves or their lawyers. Doctors Without Borders reported at least nine cases, the United Nations Refugee Agency presented at least one case, and even the Hungarian police came forward with a number of cases. I assume in this last category a superior officer reported on a subordinate.

Once Magyar Nemzet was on the case, they kept going. The paper soon found out that at least two policemen were convicted in an accelerated procedure of abusing immigrants on the southern border. One of them was fined 130,000 forints, which, given these policemen’s salaries, is a fairly hefty sum. This particular brave policeman, of whom we should be proud according to Bakondi, fired teargas straight into the faces of refugees who were standing on the Serbian side of the fence. His excuse was that the refugee in question was hurling abuse at the policeman’s family and “behaved in a threatening manner.” I guess from across the fence. Moreover, given the language skills of the Hungarian police, the story doesn’t ring true.

The other case was even more serious. This particular police sergeant was found guilty of maltreatment and assault of a refugee, who happened to be sitting on the ground. Without any provocation, the policeman kicked the man’s face with his right knee. He was fined 300,000 forints. So much for the gallant Hungarian policemen Bakondi talked about. And so much for the trustworthiness of the Hungarian government and its spokesmen.

The cruel treatment of refugees The New York Times’s editorial wrote about isn’t limited to physical abuse at the border. It extends to the treatment of those few refugees who have received asylum in Hungary. The Orbán government’s chief argument against accepting Middle Eastern and North African refugees is their radically different culture and religion, which prevents their integration into the European majority culture. The two don’t mix. The Hungarian government certainly makes these people’s integration as difficult as possible. Without some initial assistance, integration will not take place easily. The refugees need shelter, some clothing, and, most important, language instruction. As long as they cannot communicate, they cannot find a job. But since June 2016 the government provides none of the above. Prior to that date a legal immigrant received a monthly stipend and some rudimentary language instruction. Right now they get nothing. Some of them must sleep in homeless shelters where they are not welcome. In this way the Orbán government can prove a point: they cannot learn the language, they don’t even want to, and naturally they don’t want to work.

I did hear about a language course offered by a Hungarian Reformed group. The Hungarian Catholic Church, however, has no intention of lending a helping hand to these poor people. The one notable exception is Miklós Beer, bishop of Vác. He suggested that each family that can afford it should “adopt” a refugee, whom they would help get through the first difficult months. He himself took in two young men. His fellow bishops are horrified. And the government newspaper, Magyar Idők, published an editorial in which György Pilhál, one of the most objectionable hacks in the government propaganda machine, intimated that the bishop must have been drunk to have suggested such an unheard-of act. The title of his piece was “I hope it wasn’t the wine for mass.” It seems that this was too much even for Magyar Idők, whose editor-in-chief apologized a week later.

All in all, Hungary’s treatment of the refugees, both those who are already inside the country and those who are locked up in the transit zone, is shameful. There is no other way of describing it.

March 17, 2017

The Hungarian government’s shameful treatment of asylum seekers

On Sunday, March 5, 2017, a report from Belgrade was published in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. It claimed that refugees “with visible traces of Hungary’s brutal policies” had told the Swedish journalist about severe beatings with batons by Hungarian policeman. The officers also used attack dogs. Their stories were confirmed by Andrea Contenta of Doctors Without Borders. According to him, the number of incidents has multiplied of late. There was at least one day when 20 people needed medical attention. One of the asylum seekers ended up into the emergency room of the nearby hospital. Accompanying the story were photos of the men with visible wounds and bruises.

In no time all the major newspapers of Europe and the United States picked up Aftonbladet’s story, which was followed by a worldwide condemnation of the Hungarian government’s treatment of asylum seekers. A day later the Hungarian ministry of interior released a statement that Magyar Nemzet described as an “ill-tempered personal attack.” In it, the ministry “categorically repudiated the unproven accusations that appeared in the international and domestic media” leveled against the Hungarian government. The ministry called attention to the fact that such accusations usually occur when “Hungary is forced, in the defense of the European Union and its own citizens, to strengthen its borders.” The press release also noted that Doctors Without Borders is supported by George Soros. As for the few possible incidents, Hungarian prosecutors have already investigated eight cases, six of which turned out to be bogus. The denial of these reports continued today when Zoltán Kovács, a government spokesman, declared that the report of Doctors Without Borders is nothing more than a pack of lies.

But that was not all. On March 7, two days after the Swedish newspaper story, the Hungarian parliament passed a new piece of legislation that will force all asylum seekers into detention camps. UPI’s report specifically recounted that “although [the law] was fiercely criticized after its submission last month, the legislation won near-unanimous approval … by a vote of 138-6.” This lopsided vote was the result of the abstention of MSZP members of parliament, a sign of their usual ambivalence when it comes to the migrant issue. While their cases are being decided, asylum seekers, including women and children over the age of 14, will be herded into shipping containers surrounded by a high razor-fence on the Hungarian side. These camps will be wide open on the Serbian side. Therefore, Hungarian government officials can declare with some justification that the people inside these camps are not incarcerated; they just can’t step onto Hungarian soil.

On the very same day that Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik members of parliament voted for the bill that was to receive worldwide opprobrium, Viktor Orbán delivered a short speech at the swearing-in ceremony of 462 new “border hunters.” In the speech he called the new recruits’ job a “calling” in “the service of the country and the defense of the Hungarian people.” He pointed out that even if there is at the moment no migrant pressure at the borders of Europe, Hungary must be prepared for repeated onslaughts of migrants. It is for that reason that the Hungarian government will build a new fence which, according to some reports, might be attached to a source of low-voltage electricity. He described “migration as a Trojan horse of terrorism,” which assumes that all migrants are potential terrorists. Or perhaps one could go even further and interpret this sentence as akin to the contention of those American Islamophobes who say that Islam is not really a religion but rather an ideology of terrorism.

Another memorable Orbán line from this speech addressed the dichotomy between human rights and the law. Those migrants who cross Hungary’s border break the law. “This is reality which cannot be overwritten by all that rarified claptrap about human rights.” Orbán certainly doesn’t beat around the bush. Human rights are not something he worries or cares about. In fact, he is ready to transgress them in the name of “reality.”

A day later Magyar Nemzet reported that Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, expressed his “deep concern” over the detention of asylum seekers in guarded camps which, in his opinion, violates the obligations spelled out in the European Convention of Human Rights. And he is not alone. Two rapporteurs of the Council, Tineke Strik and Doris Fiala, asked János Áder to refuse to countersign this new law that most likely is in violation of international agreements. Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, considers it “a far cry from international norms” and recommends its withdrawal.

As far as the European Commission is concerned, there seems to be a shift in its position toward this latest outrage. At first Margaritis Schinas, the chief spokesperson of the Commission, informed inquiring journalists that the Commission would not make a statement now but would wait until the law comes into effect. A day later, however, another spokesperson, Natasha Bertaud, told Népszava’s correspondent in Brussels that Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU commissioner for migration, will be dispatched to Budapest “to conduct serious negotiations with the Hungarian authorities about the amendments to the Asylum Act.”

By now I don’t have much hope that any international organization, be it the United Nations, the Council of Europe, or the European Commission, will be able to influence Hungarian policies either on the migrant question or on the transgression of democratic norms. Here and there one can hear from European politicians that the Hungarian government’s behavior should at least have financial consequences, but so far Brussels has been unwilling to punish Hungary for the actions of its government.

There are times when Viktor Orbán, despite all his bluster, quietly falls into line. Like today, when he cast his vote for the reelection of Donald Tusk as president of the European Council. Orbán abandoned his best friend and comrade Jarosław Kaczyński and voted for “the icon of immorality and stupidity,” as the Polish foreign minister called Donald Tusk. There are steps which even Orbán is reluctant to take.

March 9, 2017

Amnesty International: Devastating report on Hungary

A few days ago Amnesty International (AI) released its 2015-16 report “on the state of the world’s human rights,” which includes a scathing analysis of Hungary’s record. Since the refugee crisis dominated public discourse in the European Union during this period, AI paid special attention to Viktor Orbán’s policies regarding the refugees who gathered at the southern border of the country. AI describes Hungary as a country that “led the way in refusing to engage with pan-European solutions to the refugee crisis” and opted instead to seal its borders. The report stresses the anti-Muslim rationale for Hungary’s refusal to admit refugees.

AI’s report deals with four problem areas: (1) refugees, (2) freedom of association, (3) discrimination against the Roma population, and (4) freedom of religion. The space devoted to Hungary is fairly long. It begins with the statement that, according to a report compiled by the Eötvös Károly Institute, the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, “the replacement of judges of the Constitutional Court and the 2010 constitutional amendments undermined the Court’s independence.” Thus, the whole legal foundation of the country is flawed.

The report traces out the stages of fence-building and the amendments to the Asylum Law. AI comes to the conclusion that “the application of the law could lead to the violation of Hungary’s obligation of non-refoulement,” a practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they may be subjected to persecution.

The AI report also points to the fact that “NGOs critical of government policies faced harassment and threats of losing their registration.” The section on discrimination against the Roma lists several court cases, including the so-called “Numbered Streets” neighborhood in Miskolc, which is still pending because of the municipality’s appeal. As far as freedom of religion is concerned, the Hungarian government, although it should have changed the 2011 Church Law to comply with a 2014 European Court of Human Rights judgment, has done nothing and therefore “freedom of religion continues to be restricted” in Hungary.

It’s not a pretty picture, and Júlia Iván, director of Amnesty International Hungary, expanded the list of complaints by pointing out that the Hungarian government in the past six or seven years has done everything in its power to deny assistance to and protection of refugees. Moreover, the Hungarian government incited a level of xenophobia in its citizens that is becoming something of a record in the western world. “Trump, Orbán, Erdoğan, and other similar populists dehumanize whole groups of people and make them scapegoats,” says Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International, as quoted in Magyar Nemzet.

I’m sure that those of us who are familiar with the refugee record of the Hungarian government could have anticipated the findings of AI. So I will move on to the Orbán government’s reaction to AI’s assessment.

No more than a couple of hours after the Hungarian media began reporting on AI’s analysis of the Hungarian situation Magyar Idők published an article about Amnesty International which, according to the Government Information Center, encourages “the violation of the law of illegal immigrants.” This is especially unacceptable because “the government is only trying to defend the rights of European citizens and Hungarian families.”

A few days later Magyar Idők continued its attack on Amnesty International. It repeated Fidesz’s accusation that George Soros, who helps fund AI, was behind the negative report on Hungary. It also speculated about another reason for AI’s negative view of the Hungarian situation. The bad report card was expected because the Hungarian parliament will soon debate the government’s new proposals on restricting the free movement of migrants whose status is still pending. Of course, this is a ridiculous accusation since such a lengthy report cannot be put together in a couple of weeks and the new government proposals are of fairly recent vintage.

Röszke, September 8, 2015 / Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo: Béla Nagy

Today Magyar Idők once again returned to the topic of Amnesty International, arguing that last year the organization inundated the office of László Székely, the Hungarian ombudsman, with complaints. In one year the poor man had to deal with 7,500 complaints. Of that number 2,600 dealt with immigration. Only ten of these complaints came from Hungary, the rest arrived from abroad. Surely, Magyar Idők wrote, AI is behind this deluge of mail. Associates of the ombudsman’s office said that among the letters there were even some written in English, German, French, and Spanish. The associates proudly announced that all the complaining letters were answered in the appropriate language.

Reporters from the government paper confronted Áron Demeter, who deals with human rights violations for Amnesty International Hungary. Why does Amnesty International encourage its followers to write such letters? Demeter’s explanation was that HHC had asked the ombudsman to turn to Hungary’s Constitutional Court on the question of the government’s criminalization of irregular border crossings. They hoped that as a result of receiving so many letters the ombudsman would be moved to act. But the letters didn’t change the ombudsman’s mind. Magyar Idők’s reporter didn’t hide his disapproval of such “pressure tactics.” Demeter explained that ever since its foundation AI has undertaken letter-writing campaigns to authorities that keep innocent victims incarcerated. In many cases, he added, this tactic had proved to be successful.

That explanation didn’t impress Magyar Idők’s reporter, who kept repeating that the behavior of AI was unconscionable. Their letter writers burden the already overworked ombudsman, who is supposed to represent those citizens who have grievances and who seek remedies from the offending authorities.

Finally, I would like to call attention to a short video that records complaints of police brutality along the Serbian-Hungarian border.

If the stories are true, and I fear they are, one can only be ashamed of what’s going on in the “center of Europe,” as Hungarians like to refer to their country’s geographic position.

February 25, 2017