(Budapest) – 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.
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.