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Hungary: UNHCR concerned about new restrictive law, increased reports of violence, and a deterioration of the situation at border with Serbia.

Briefing notes

Hungary: UNHCR concerned about new restrictive law, increased reports of violence, and a deterioration of the situation at border with Serbia.

15 July 2016

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. These restrictions are at variance with EU and international law and reports of abuse need to be investigated. The number of refugees and migrants at the Serbia-Hungary border has reached over 1,400, including people waiting to enter the transit zones, as well as those at the Refugee Aid Point at Subotica. The majority are women and children who are particularly affected by the deteriorating humanitarian situation. 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.

The new legislation extended border controls to an 8-kilometre area inside Hungarian territory, and authorizes 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. Currently, only two transit zones are functional along the 175-kilometre-long Serbian-Hungarian border at Röszke and Tompa, where on average only 15 individuals are admitted in each transit zone per day. Since the new legislation came into force, a total of 664 individuals were sent back through the fence. In addition, the government has significantly enhanced border security with 10,000 soldiers and police officers and also drone and helicopter surveillance.

UNHCR also published a paper on Hungary as a Country of Asylum – Hungary as a country of asylum. Observations on restrictive legal measures and subsequent practice implemented between July 2015 and March 2016, May 2016.

UNHCR has continued to receive reports of abuse and violence occurring when people were apprehended within the transit zones, or in police detention facilities. 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. In early June, UNHCR issued a statement after a young Syrian refugee had drowned, when allegedly pushed back into the Tisza River.

The conditions for those waiting to enter the ‘transit zones’ are dire. Individuals and families stay in the open or set up makeshift tents on muddy fields next to the fence. Health and sanitation represent major challenges, and hygiene conditions are far from acceptable. People waiting include infants, unaccompanied children, pregnant women and people with disabilities and other specific needs. Several hundred are sheltered by the Government of Serbia in the Refugee Aid Point near Subotica, though capacity there is overstretched. In this context, people might further resort to the use of unscrupulous human smugglers who place them at further risk.

UNHCR, partners, and NGOs have stepped up assistance, including through the Government of Serbia, by providing more food, water, medical, and other aid. UNHCR is present also to identify people with specific needs. On the 8th of July, UN Agencies in Serbia issued a joint press release expressing their concern over a further deterioration of the situation of refugees and migrants at the Serbia-Hungary border.

In areas relevant to our mandate, UNHCR stands ready to support the governments of Hungary and Serbia to manage the situation at their common border.

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