Migrants in Hungary’s border transit zones denied food, said rights group

A human rights group in Hungary has accused the Hungarian government of systematically denying food to migrants in border transit zones.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee said adults whose asylum applications have been rejected are denied food in an effort to propel them to leave the country. It described the policy as “an unprecedented human rights violation in 21st-century Europe.”

“The idea is that if you make people hungry enough, you’ll force them to go back to Serbia,” said Marta Pardavi, the co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. The rights group added that this may amount to “inhuman treatment and even to torture” under international human rights law.

In 2019, the committee filed eight cases involving 13 people to the European Court of Human Rights. It said that some migrants did not receive food for up to five days before the court intervened and ordered Hungarian authorities to feed them.

Currently, Hungary only accepts asylum applications from the small group of people who have entered its border transit zones. Any asylum seekers entering the country from a safe one is automatically ineligible. Most applicants are deemed ineligible as they arrived from Serbia, a country marked as safe by Hungary. Last year, Hungary accepted 349 applications submitted in transit zones. Most of them were from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The Hungarian government rejects the accusation of human rights violations, saying authorities provided “everything for people who have a legal right to stay in the transit zone.” However, it admitted that failed applicants did not receive food. PM Orban’s spokesman, Zoltan Kovacs said rejected asylum seekers are free to leave the transit zone and return to Serbia.

“There is no free meal for anyone,” he said.

The Hungarian government has been particularly tough on immigration after large numbers of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty arrived in Europe in 2015. It was openly critical of European countries accepting migrants, calling it a terror threat. To prevent them from entering the country, Prime Minister Viktor Orban ordered the installation of a fence along the border with Serbia. It placed higher taxes on NGOs supporting migrants, and introduced a controversial law criminalising the provision of humanitarian assistance to migrants in the country.

PM Orban’s Fidesz party is currently campaigning on anti-migration messages in the European parliament elections, due to take place in May 2019.

TMP – 07/09/2019

Photo credit: Zoltan Galantai / Shutterstock 

Photo caption: An anti-immigration campaign billboard by the Hungarian government in Budapest.  

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