Hungarian authorities have stopped food distribution for rejected asylum seekers held in transit zones on the country’s border with Serbia since early August, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In a report published on Wednesday, HRW called for the Hungarian government to adhere to its legal obligations and ensure that all asylum seekers in custody are provided with sufficient and appropriate food.
“The government has stooped to a new inhumane low by refusing food to people in their custody, apparently revelling in breaching human rights law, including its obligations as a European Union member,” said Lydia Gall, Eastern EU and Balkans researcher at HRW.
“This disregard for people’s wellbeing smacks of a cynical move to force people to give up their asylum claims and leave Hungary”.
The migrants are held in the two transit centres on the border with Serbia. They are not allowed to leave during the processing of their application unless they choose to return.
Two Afghan families and two Syrian brothers are among those denied food after their asylum applications were rejected under a new admissibility procedure.
While a breastfeeding woman and children in the Afghan families were provided with food, they were prohibited from sharing it with other family members, the families’ legal representatives told HRW.
The European Court of Human Rights (EUCHR) ordered Hungary on August 10 to resume food distribution for the two Afghan families and has since issued similar orders in response to three other appeals, including on behalf of the Syrian brothers.
While Hungarian authorities respected the orders so far, dozens of other rejected asylum seekers may face food deprivation, according to HRW.
Hungary’s Immigration and Asylum Office on August 20 argued that there is nothing in Hungarian law that obliges authorities to provide food to people in the “aliens policing procedure” in transit zones.
However, HRW noted that authorities have binding obligations under multiple human rights treaties and norms that prohibit inhumane treatment of those in their custody. Authorities are required to treat those under their custody with humanity which includes providing them food, water, hygiene and medical needs.
In its report, HRW called for the government to amend their legislation to ensure that everyone in a transit zone, regardless of the status of their applications, has their basic needs met.
On August 20, a pastor, Gabor Ivanyi, was denied access when he tried to deliver food to people in the transit zones during a national holiday known as the Festival of the New Bread.
Currently, a young woman from Afghanistan is at the receiving end of Hungary’s policy, but similar cases are likely to emerge in the coming days, Andras Lederer of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, (HHC) a human rights watchdog, told dpa news agency.
The woman had appealed against the decision by Hungarian immigration authorities to refuse her asylum. HHC sued Hungary last week at the EUCHR on her behalf.
“It’s completely outrageous and absurd that people have to turn to the courts to get a slice of bread,” Gall said.
“EU institutions should take this latest attack on people’s rights, add it to the large file of rule of law and human rights concerns in Hungary, and send a clear message that blatantly abusing asylum seekers and flouting EU rules will have serious consequences.”
Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban took a harsh stance on refugees and migrants during the 2015-16 migration crisis.
His country was the first to stop people from entering and has passed laws aimed at discouraging migrants from attempting a transit or from seeking asylum.
HRW noted in its report that since 2015, the Orban government has “engaged in a virulent campaign” against migrants and asylum seekers, including attempts to demonise organisations that provide legal and humanitarian assistance to these groups.
One of the targets has been George Soros, the Hungarian-born philanthropist billionaire known for funding NGOs and development organisations worldwide.