UN concerned by Hungary's migrant push-backs
By Eszter Zalan
The UN's refugee agency, the UNHCR, said Friday (15 July) it was "deeply concerned" by the further restrictions to Hungary's asylum rules, leading to push-backs of people seeking help, and over reports of violence and abuse.
The UN agency said 1,400 migrants and refugees are now stranded on the Hungarian-Serbian border.
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They are waiting to enter one of the two transit zones into Hungary along the 175-kilometre long Serbian border, with Hungarian authorities letting through just 30 people per day.
According to the UNHCR, the majority of them are women and children, as well as people with special needs, who are "particularly affected by the deteriorating humanitarian situation."
New rules introduced earlier this month extended border controls to an 8-kilometre stretch within Hungary. It allows police to intercept people in these areas and send them back to the other side of the fence.
Since the new legislation came into force, a total of 664 people were sent back, the UNHCR said.
Hungary erected a fence along its Serbian and Croatian frontiers last year to stop the uncontrolled flow of migrants.
The government has also beefed up border security ,with 10,000 soldiers and police officers, as well as drone and helicopter surveillance.
Violence at the transit zones
The UN agency said it is continuing to receive reports of violence when people were apprehended within the transit zones, or in police detention facilities, including beatings, dog bites and use of pepper spray.
The UN agency has urged Hungary to investigate the reports.
“These restrictions are at variance with EU and international law, and reports of abuse need to be investigated,” William Spindler, a UNHCR spokesman told press Geneva.
Hungary rebuffed claims of violence.
Janos Lazar, the minister in charge of prime minister Viktor Orban’s office, denied on Thursday that Hungarian police or soldiers had mistreated asylum seekers.
The UNHCR described the situation in the transit zones as "dire", with families sleeping in the open or in makeshift tents next to the fence in poor hygiene conditions.
Last week a 10-year old Afghan boy drowned while trying to wash in a nearby pond, the BBC reported. The UNHCR is mediating with the Serbian and Hungarian authorities about where to bury the dead child.
The UN agency warned that the conditions could make people turn to smugglers to get across, putting them at risk.
Earlier this week, US-based NGO Human Rights Watch also rang the alarm bell, saying Hungary forced back migrants, which is against international law and EU law, and in some cases uses "cruel and violent treatment."
Hungary's interior ministry denounced the NGO's accusations.
Hungary rejects accusations
It said in a statement that HRW is "misconstruing the rules relating to the asylum proceedings out of obvious ignorance of the situation."
"Hungary observes the Schengen rules relating to border controls as well as the Geneva Convention," the statement added, saying Hungary guarantees legal entry and filing of asylum requests.
Last year, some 400,000 people crossed Hungary on their way to Western and Northern Europe, until Hungary raised the razor wire fence.
Hungary has also been reluctant to take in refugees through EU-wide schemes.
Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban called for a referendum on 2 October on whether to allow the EU to set mandatory quotas for Hungary to take in asylum seekers.