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Hungary: Denials Won’t End Abuses Against Migrants

Government Needs to Face Reality, Take Positive Action

Denial may be a common tactic by governments that abuse human rights – but it’s rarely an effective one.

It thus may be no surprise that Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, speaking to BBC Hardtalk on October 20, tried to dismiss extensive reporting by Human Rights Watch and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees documenting police violence against migrants and asylum seekers on Hungary’s border with Serbia.

Pakistani man who said he was beaten by Hungarian border officials on August 12, 2016. © 2016 Lydia Gall/Human Rights Watch

But his blunt words – “They are lying” – cannot change the facts.

I live in Hungary and have spent a considerable amount of time on its border with Serbia, and no high-profile denials can undo the stark reality on the ground: Hungarian border officials, including police and army, on a regular basis beat, brutalize, and humiliate asylum seekers and refugees before forcing them back to the Serbian border.
Since May, Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of cases told to us by asylum seekers and other migrants who, independently of each other, gave detailed statements of Hungarian border officials using violence against them. The violence involved pummelling with fists, kicks, beatings with batons, use of pepper spray, and setting dogs on them. In many cases, we have photographic evidence of injuries and bruises caused by such violence. UNHCR, Amnesty International, and Medicines Sans Frontieres have documented similar abuses.

No, Mr. Szijjarto, we’re not all lying. And no one with any knowledge of the situation on the ground believes your denials.

Rather than trying to dismiss credible evidence from multiple independent sources, the Hungarian government would do better simply to investigate these cases, hold perpetrators to account, and put a stop to any repetition. That would be the proper approach for a country that holds itself up as an exemplary EU member. 


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