R traveled for seven months with her family from war-torn Syria, hoping to find safety in Europe away from explosions and slaughter. Once she got to the Hungarian border, authorities prohibited them from entering, leaving them stuck waiting for asylum inside a “transit zone” along the border with Serbia that the Hungarian government set up to clamp down on border crossers.
“We escaped death, if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes you can’t imagine the horror,” R, who asked for her full name to be withheld, told the human rights organization Amnesty International. “Death, fear, explosions, slaughter, that’s why we had to leave.”
“Each day we die a thousand deaths,” R added. “We just want a normal life for our children, for them to sleep without fear. We just want safety and we want humanity.”
R and her family are now still stuck at one of two main camps outside of Hungary with thousands of other asylum seekers who have faced similar violence or illegal push backs from Hungarian authorities in recent months, a new Amnesty International report revealed.
In the report released this week, researchers charged that Hungarian authorities put up legal and physical barriers at every turn to deny asylum seekers the right to stay in the country. Some authorities unlawfully “pushed back” refugees and migrants who were not given a chance to ask for humanitarian relief as protected by international law. Men travelling without families are detained for weeks at a time inside camps unsuited for long-term accommodation where there was a lack of medical attention and care. And those lucky enough to apply for asylum found “a lack of interest on the side of the asylum authority to support them with their application” and a lack of interpreters. Researchers also found that Hungarian officials strongly enforced a new law that returned asylum seekers found up to 8 km (or about 5 miles) from the border fence in Hungarian territory.
“Appalling treatment and labyrinthine asylum procedures are a cynical ploy to deter asylum-seekers from Hungary’s ever more militarized borders,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe said. “Against the backdrop of a toxic referendum campaign, poisonous anti-refugee rhetoric is reaching fever pitch.”
Last year, more than 400,000 people passed through Hungary, prompting the Hungarian government to place barbed wire fences along the borders with Serbia and Croatia. In response to the bigger E.U. migration crisis last year, the European Union set up a quota system calling on member states to accept refugees and asylum seekers who are escaping persecution and violence in North African and Middle Eastern countries. But Hungary refused, leaving thousands of people stranded on the Serbian side of the border.
The government has actively taken on a zero resettlement policy, with Prime Minister Viktor Orban denigrating refugees as “poison.” In the past, law enforcement officials have used teargas on refugees, including children, to push back the migration flow. The country has since opened up two “transit zones” to restrict the flow of people to two points along the Serbian border and limited 30 people a day to cross into the country, while only processing 15 asylum applications daily.
The harsh tone set by the government could affect future legislation within the country. On Sunday, Hungarian citizens are set to vote on a referendum on the mandatory relocation of these individuals within the country.
“When I came, I thought, Hungary is Europe, maybe it will be OK. But I realize that they hate us here,” an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan told Amnesty International.