A police officer patrols the temporary border fence along the Hungary-Serbia border near Roszke, 180 kilometers southeast of Budapest, Hungary | Photo: EPA/ZOLTAN GERGELY KELEMAN
A police officer patrols the temporary border fence along the Hungary-Serbia border near Roszke, 180 kilometers southeast of Budapest, Hungary | Photo: EPA/ZOLTAN GERGELY KELEMAN

In a letter published Tuesday, the Council of Europe has criticized Hungary for its ill-treatment of asylum seekers and demands the country urgently address human rights violations.

In an extensive 37-page letter, Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, slams the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Hungary's transit zones where it has been found that people in detention have been deprived of food.

"Many asylum seekers detained in the transit zones under an alien policing procedure have been deprived of food. This practice should stop immediately," Mijatovic writes. Authorities should use "alternatives to detention," she adds. Leading human rights organizations, including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Human Rights Watch, documented the starvation of migrants in the transit zones last year. 

Reports in recent months have also detailed the systematic detention of asylum seekers, including children, in transit zones, with inadequate access to legal protection as well as excessive use of police violence against foreign nationals during deportations. 

Asylum seekers in Hungary can only apply for international protection in two transit zones along the border with Serbia. In addition, legal amendments in Hungary have made it nearly impossible for asylum seekers arriving from Serbia to gain protection in Hungary, because Hungary considers Serbia a safe country. Mijatovic urges the Hungarian government to widen the access for migrants to seek protection.

"Human rights violations in Hungary have a negative effect on the whole protection system and the rule of law," Mijatovic writes in the report. "They must be addressed as a matter of urgency."

Hungary responds 

The Hungarian government has dismissed the criticism. It said it was "absolutely justified" in maintaining crisis measures, even though hardly any migrants reach Hungary now, because there are still many immigrants in nearby countries including Serbia and North Macedonia.

On the issue of starving detainees in the transit zones, the government said: "The claim that the Hungarian authorities would have any obligation to provide catering after the final closure of the asylum procedure is not substantiated. Food can be bought in the transit zone at any time, the conditions for self-care are met, and the state must not be expected to provide additional care from the state budget."

On reported police beatings of migrants, the government said that allegations of abuse had been investigated even though those claiming abuse had not filed official complaints, according to AFP. "Camera recordings show that the use of police measures and coercive measures are lawful, professional and justified," the government said. "Nevertheless, they are perceived as being abuse by the police."

Anti-migrant rhetoric

The Council of Europe also urges Hungary to refrain from using anti-migrant rhetoric and exaggerating the migrant "crisis". The current numbers of asylum seekers entering Hungary and the EU as a whole do not justify Hungary’s decreed "crisis situation due to mass immigration" according to Mijatovic.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, elected to a third consecutive term in April 2018, has based his recent campaigns nearly exclusively on anti-immigration policies, which he says are meant to protect Hungary and Europe from the "Muslim invasion."


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