Saturday

26th Sep 2020

Hungary to detain asylum seekers in shipping containers

  • Asylum seekers would only be able to leave the container camps if they received permission (Photo: Andreas Nilsson)

Hungary's parliament passed a bill on Tuesday (7 March) to detain all asylum seekers in converted shipping containers amid allegations that some were beaten by border guards.

The new law lets authorities detain everyone in the camps along so-called transit zones near the border with Serbia.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Hungary's Viktor Orban has described migration as “a Trojan horse for terrorism” (Photo: Reuters)

It expands on legislation from last July that allowed authorities to apprehend and return anyone to Serbia caught within 8km of the Hungarian border.

Tuesday’s decision meant that anyone, regardless of their asylum status, would be locked up no matter where they were found in Hungary.

Some 19,000 people last year were sent back to Serbia or blocked from entering the country amid reports of beatings and abuse at the hands of Hungarian border guards.

A Hungarian spokeswoman told EUobserver by email that asylum seekers would only be able to leave the container camps if they received permission or if they volunteered to leave the country and return to Serbia.

"Illegal immigrants apprehended within the country’s territory will be escorted by police back through the nearest border gate, meaning that immigrants will be able to submit their asylum requests in the transit zone under controlled conditions," she said.

She said people would receive medical and other required care for the full length of their asylum proceedings.

De facto detention

The move was seen by Amnesty International, a British NGO, as a violation of people's right to claim asylum after having fled wars in places such as Syria and Iraq.

"This is de facto detention ordered without individual assessment, ordered without the necessary safeguards," Amnesty’s Todor Gardos said.

"It’s a punitive measure. People are being punished simply because they want to enter an asylum process," he said.

Hungary set up the transit zones near the borders in September 2015.

People detained there were in the past released after four weeks and then sent to reception centres.

"Now the Hungarian authorities have removed that four-week deadline and they have made this detention in this transit zone, in the blue containers, as the default option," said Gardos.

Two container sites are already operational along the border with Serbia.

Another two have been erected near Croatia with plans to build more. Each site will house up to 300 asylum seekers.

Only 50 people per week or so are being allowed to enter from Serbia to seek asylum.

The latest law follows recent pressure by the European Commission for EU states to lock up more people, including children, and for longer periods,.

Leaders at an EU summit in Brussels this week are to endorse the Commission's plans to fast-track migrant detentions and expulsions.

Zoltan Kovacs, Hungary's top spokesman, also told reporters in late February that the country had spent over €500 million on a border fence with Serbia.

He said that another €122 million had been earmarked for a second “smart fence” equipped with motion detection sensors.

Beatings, abuse and police selfies

Amnesty International says some 3,000 people managed to cross Hungary's border fence with Serbia in January alone despite the measures.

Many were sent back to Serbia with reports emerging that Hungarian border guards were taking "selfies" with beaten-up asylum seekers.

On Tuesday, the humanitarian NGO, Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF), posted images on Twitter of bruised people who had allegedly been battered by Hungarian border police.

"Hungary's new law won't protect Hungarians. It will endanger the lives of those seeking protection by pushing them to take even bigger risks," MSF said on Tuesday's decision.

Amnesty International said Hungary had opened eight investigations into the alleged border guard abuses but has yet to find anyone guilty.

Letter

Europe must defend everyone's rights

In a letter, 157 prominent civil society organisations call for strong European leadership to fight against the current challenges facing human rights.

Opinion

Big changes in EU migration governance

Despite public debate sometimes being on the wrong side of the fence, there have been a number of developments in tackling asylum and migration in Europe.

EU stands aside as Hungary detains migrants

Commission is withholding action on Hungary's detention of asylum seekers, even as the Hungarian government tries to "stop Brussels" on immigration policy.

EU migration pact to deter asylum

The EU commission's newest pact on migration and asylum seeks to deter people from claiming asylum by speeding up procedures and sending most of them back home.

Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact

Michael Spindelegger, the former minister of foreign affairs of Austria and current director of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), reveals some of the proposals in the European Commission's upcoming pact on migration and asylum.

EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece

Over 120 asylum seeking children and teenagers in Greece have so far been relocated to a handful of EU states in a scheme the European Commission says is a demonstration of solidarity. EU states have pledged to take in 2,000.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. Berlin repeats support for EU human rights sanctions
  2. China's carbon pledge at UN sends 'clear message' to US
  3. Far right using pandemic to win friends in Germany
  4. Visegrad countries immediately push back on new migration pact
  5. Why no EU progress on Black Lives Matter?
  6. EU migration pact to deter asylum
  7. 'Era of EU naivety ends', MEP pledges on foreign meddling
  8. Anti-mask protesters pose challenge for EU authorities

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us