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Hungary’s Plan to Detain All Asylum Seekers Sparks Outrage

  • Henry Ridgwell

Hungary’s parliament has passed a law allowing the detention of all asylum seekers in border camps and the summary return of any illegal migrants back to the country from which they entered. The United Nations’ refugee agency, along with several human rights groups, say the policy breaks international and European Union laws,

The new policy will be enforced by special personnel. A graduation ceremony was held Tuesday for 3,000 new recruits, which the government calls ‘border hunters.’ Armed with pistols and pepper spray, they will patrol Hungary’s frontiers alongside the police and army.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban attended the ceremony, where he said Hungary was "under siege."

Orban said, “Migration is the Trojan wooden horse of terrorism. The people that come to us don't want to live according to our culture and customs, but according to their own - at European standards of living.”

Conflating migration with terrorism is simply wrong, says Amnesty International’s Todor Gardos.

“This is exactly what many refugees and asylum seekers are fleeing from - is violence and insecurity.”

Under the legislation, Hungary will detain all asylum seekers in what it terms "shelters," pending the outcome of their applications. The U.N. says that means all refugees, including children, will be held in containers surrounded by razor wire fences.

Hungarian police and soldiers patrol the Hungary-Serbia border, which was recently fortified by a second fence, near the village of Gara, Hungary, March 2, 2017.
Hungarian police and soldiers patrol the Hungary-Serbia border, which was recently fortified by a second fence, near the village of Gara, Hungary, March 2, 2017.

Shifting the burden

In addition, police will be allowed to detain migrants anywhere in the country who have crossed illegally, and summarily send them back across the border. Previously, this only applied to migrants detained close to the frontier.

Gardos says it’s a flagrant abuse of EU and international law.

“The measure that the Hungarian authorities have chosen is to avoid properly assessing each application, each irregular migrant or asylum seeker arriving to Hungary. What they are doing instead is just putting the burden of this on other countries. So what we see is that the Hungarian government’s deliberate dismantling of its asylum system results in thousands of people being stuck in Serbia,” Gardos said.

Hundreds of stranded migrants in Serbia live in abandoned buildings or even forest camps. Many say they have suffered violence at the hands of Hungarian police, a charge authorities deny.

It’s time for Brussels to take action, says Christopher Stokes, director of the aid group Doctors Without Borders.

"We want that the European leaders put this issue of abuse that is happening inside of European borders by the Hungarian border police high up on the agenda."

Hungary says it is simply securing the external border of the European Union.

The government claims to have the support of the Hungarian people - and says there is "a change of mood in Europe" over migration following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.

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