Hungary + 2 more

UNHCR concerned Hungary pushing asylum seekers back to Serbia

Agency worried by reports of violence and worsening conditions at Hungarian-Serbian border

By: Zsolt Balla | 15 July 2016

RÖSZKE, Hungary, July 15 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is deeply concerned that asylum-seekers are reportedly being forced back across the border into Serbia under new Hungarian regulations and calls for an investigation into reports that they are being subjected to violence and abuse. UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a press briefing in Geneva the new restrictions contravened EU and international law.

The number of refugees and migrants at the Serbian-Hungarian border had reached more than 1,400, the agency said.

“We are deeply concerned about further restrictions by Hungary leading to push-backs of people seeking asylum and reports about the use of violence and abuse,” Spindler said.

“These restrictions are at variance with EU and international law and reports of abuse need to be investigated.”

Most of the refugees at the border were women and children who were particularly affected by the deteriorating humanitarian situation, Spindler said. “States have the obligation to guarantee that such people are treated humanely, in safety and dignity, and have access to asylum, if they so wish,” he added.

The new restrictions, which came into effect on July 5, extend border controls to an eight-km area inside Hungarian territory and authorize the police to intercept people within this area and send them to the other side of the fence, often to remote areas without adequate services.

Asylum-seekers are then instructed to go to one of the transit zones along the border to submit an asylum claim. Only two transit zones are functional along the 175-km border, at Röszke and Tompa. On average 15 people were admitted in each transit zone per day, UNHCR said. Since the new legislation came into force, a total of 664 individuals were sent back through the fence. In addition, the government had significantly enhanced border security with 10,000 soldiers and police officers and also drone and helicopter surveillance.

UNHCR continued to receive reports of abuse and violence when people were apprehended in transit zones or police detention facilities, Spindler said.

“Reports include cases of bites by unleashed police dogs, the use of pepper spray and beatings. “UNHCR has requested the Hungarian authorities to investigate these reports.”

The agency described conditions for those waiting to enter the transit zones as dire. Individuals and families stayed in the open or in makeshift tents on muddy fields next to the border fence. Health and sanitation were major challenges, and hygiene conditions far from acceptable.