Refugee centres fill up as Hungary tightens borders

Asylum seekers say conditions are poor while the closures of Balkans borders exacerbate overcrowding.

Refugees hungary
Of 177,135 applicants, only 146 people were granted asylum in Hungary last year [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Bicske, Hungary – An Afghan family walked along the sidewalk leading to the entrance, flashed their ID cards and passed through the rotating steel gate into the Bicske camp.

Home to hundreds of refugees and migrants who stopped over in Hungary on their way to Western Europe, Bicske is one of three refugee camps providing temporary residence across Hungary.

Hundreds of other refugees and migrants are locked up in three closed detention centres.

A few men stood outside Bicske’s main gate, smoking cigarettes and passing the time. One walked back and forth as he spoke on the phone, updating the person on the other end that he made it this far.

Standing outside the camp’s entrance, Davod, a 31-year-old asylum seeker who did not provide his last name, recalled leaving Iran two months ago. After travelling through Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia, he eventually arrived at Hungary’s border fence last week.

He shares a room with 14 others inside Bicske. “The conditions are very bad inside,” he said.

‘Stuck in limbo’

With between 100 and 200 people caught by police each day while they breach the 175-kilometre fence spanning the border with Serbia, rights groups say these facilities are overflowing.

More than 1,000 people have been arrested for entering Hungary through the fence since March 1, according to Hungarian police.

The number of refugees and migrants in open camps and detention centres has tripled since mid-February, said Andras Kovats, director of the Hungarian Association for Migrants.

READ MORE: Balkan route for refugees ‘permanently shut’

“These people are put into detention … but Serbia doesn’t take back anyone,” he told Al Jazeera. “The problem is that Hungary considers Serbia a safe country. That’s why Hungary doesn’t give asylum to these people. They end up stuck in limbo.”

Only 146 of the 177,135 applicants were granted asylum in Hungary in 2015, according to the government statistics. Many of those started the asylum process and continued to Western Europe.

Another 362 refugees were not given asylum, but were provided with residency and permitted to stay. Unlike those who were granted asylum, they do not receive state subsidies.

Mumin’s story

In December, Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised the detention of asylum seekers in Hungary, and called for their immediate release – including those “awaiting deportation who can’t be removed within a reasonable time-frame”.

Mumin, a 19-year-old refugee from Somalia, was arrested just seconds after he crawled under the fence and entered the country on January 6.

“The smuggler [in Serbia] cut the fence and told me that it was Germany,” he said. “It was raining so much. A police car [came] and told me this is Hungary.”

After being shot by Al-Shabab fighters, Mumin lost a kidney and says he would be killed if he were to return to Somalia [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
After being shot by Al-Shabab fighters, Mumin lost a kidney and says he would be killed if he were to return to Somalia [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Mumin was taken to a closed detention centre, where he was held for nearly two months before being transferred to Bicske.

Having taken the teenager’s fingerprints, police told Mumin that he would be deported back to Serbia and that he was banned from the European Union’s Schengen zone for at least one year.

“I’m a young boy. I want a future,” he said, explaining that he left behind his mother and two sisters in Somalia.

Asked why he left, he said he was shot by fighters from the al-Shabab armed group on his way home from school one day in January 2015. He lost a kidney in the attack. 

“There were eight of us. Two of them died … I cannot go back. They already said they will kill me. They can do it,” he said, shaking his head.

Unsure where to go next, he said: “Pray for me.”

Fears of violence

For its part, the Hungarian government has defended its policies towards refugees and migrants.

After Slovenia and Croatia closed their borders to those without valid European Union visas, the Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday a nationwide “state of emergency” and deployed an additional 1,500 soldiers and police officers to the Serbian border.

Interior Minister Sandor Pinter defended the move at a press conference on Wednesday, arguing that it remains unclear what impact the spate of border closures will have on Hungary’s border.

The office of Prime Minister Viktor Orban was unavailable for comment.

READ MORE: Crisis looms as a new wave of refugees reaches Europe

In addition to Slovenia and Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia have also sealed their borders, triggering a build-up of an estimated 13,000 people at the Idomeni crossing between Greece and Macedonia.

Rights groups, including the Hungarian Association for Migrants, fear that border closures across the Balkans will see people take riskier routes to reach Western Europe. More would also attempt to breach Hungary’s border fence.

“We are prepared for people to come in large numbers,” the association’s Kovats said. “The only question is whether the government will step back and let it flow, or if they will try to play the tough guy … I’m afraid that if they do that it will turn violent.”

Many refugees have been arrested in Hungary after breaching this fence which is 175 kilometres and spans the Serbian border. [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]
Many refugees have been arrested in Hungary after breaching this fence which is 175 kilometres and spans the Serbian border. [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_

Follow Sorin Furcoi on Twitter: @furcoisorin

Source: Al Jazeera