World

Refugees being severely abused by Hungarian authorities, report alleges

'Hungary is breaking all the rules for asylum seekers,' Human Rights Watch says

Posted: July 13, 2016

Syrian refugees cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, on Aug. 27, 2015. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

Hungarian police and soldiers have beaten some refugees severely before sending them back across the border to Serbia, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday.

Since July 5, refugees and migrants caught within eight kilometres of the border are being returned to the Serbian side of the razor-wire fence built by Hungary last year to stem the migrant flow. Police said 621 people were sent back to Serbia through the fence during the first week the new rules were in effect.

One of the claims of abuse noted in the HRW report said men in a group of between 30 and 40 refugees that also included women and children were beaten by soldiers for two hours after being detained in Hungary.

Hungarian army soldiers stand guard at the Serbian-Hungarian border fence at a makeshift camp near the village of Horgos, Serbia, on June 14, 2016. (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

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"I haven't even seen such beating in the movies," the reported quoted an unidentified man as saying. "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."

'I haven't even seen such beating in the movies. 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.' - Unnamed refugee 

Others interviewed by HRW claimed to have been beaten by police and of being injured when forced back to Serbia through small openings in the razor-wire fence.

The HRW report was based on interviews with 41 asylum-seekers and migrants as well as officials from a wide range of Hungarian and international institutions, including the UN refugee agency, Hungarian police and the immigration office.

The organization said Hungary was also failing to comply with international standards regarding asylum-seekers, for example by quickly dismissing most asylum claims from single men, while accepting only 15 claims daily at each of the two transit zones on the Serbian border. This has led to hundreds of refugees being stranded at the border in precarious conditions.

Hungarian policemen detain a Syrian refugee family after they entered Hungary at the border with Serbia, Aug. 28, 2015. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

"The abuse of asylum seekers and migrants runs counter to Hungary's obligations under EU law, refugee law, and human rights law," said Lydia Gall, the advocacy group's regional researcher. "The European Commission should use its enforcement powers to press Budapest to comply with its obligation under EU law to provide meaningful access to asylum and fair procedures for those at its borders and on its territory."

"Hungary is breaking all the rules for asylum seekers," Gall said.

Hungarian police and army officers oversee the distribution of food as people queue inside a refugee camp at Serbia's border with Hungary, in Horgos, Serbia, on July 11, 2016. (Marko Drobnjakovic/Associated Press)

The Hungarian government did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but authorities last month rejected similar allegations of abuse reported by the UN refugee agency. HRW said it sent its findings and questions to Hungary's Office of Immigration and Nationality, as well as to the interior and defense ministries on June 13 and did not receive any response.

HRW also said Hungary was applying "legal fiction" at the transit zones on the border, as people there were not considered to have entered the country even though the zones are in Hungarian territory. This makes it possible for Hungary to ensure that refugees whose asylum claims are rejected in the transit zones do not try to stay in Hungary or pass through the country, as nearly 400,000 people did last year, on their way west.