Responsible Government does not (mis)treat Asylum Seekers and Policemen like this

Responsible Government does not (mis)treat Asylum Seekers and Policemen like this

Two days ago, legal experts of the Helsinki Committee examined the state of affairs at the Röszke Collection Point on site. In the two days since the situation has somewhat stabilized. An acceptable solution however, is nowhere in sight and the legal chaos is still the same. This is a quick report of the visit.

Three members of the Helsinki Committee observed the Röszke Collection Point on Tuesday and, although they havee been observing human rights issues for 15 years, the chaos they saw there left them stunned. The least to blame is perhaps the police themselves as the situation is the result of a mindless martial attitude in the legislation and administration combined with a complete lack of resources. Without the police leaders we would also not know how to proceed.

The Collection Point, a new construction in the middle of nowhere, is meant to collect those crossing the border seeking refuge. Theoretically these people would then proceed to registration points in Röszke and Szeged. They are supposed to be transported there by bus but since busses are scarce policemen usually just point the way to the next stage or escort the new arrivals to the Collection Point (the latter of which seemed the typical solution). We were informed is located on private property and we observed police controlling a group of German journalists for parking on that private property. There is no electricity, no lights or water on site. Civilians have brought food and drink as well as blankets, clothing and tents, none of which was available in the first days.

The people in the camp, many children and babies among them, spent the night on Monday outside in 5 degrees and at the time of our visit there were 300-400 inhabitants in the camp and about 200 policemen. We counted 6 mobile toilets.

Czech and Austrian volunteers distributed food on site, and Hungarian helpers also moved around in the area. The people sat on blankets in a flattened part of the corn field talking among themselves. Great numbers of journalists were to be seen. Debris and garbage lay everywhere.

The people arriving at the Collection Point were surrounded by a line of policemen. No one informed them about the role of the police, their own legal status, the impending procedure and its legal background or simply what the next steps were. There was neither an interpreter nor flyers nor infomation brochures available. If they were there they were so well hidden we didn’t see them.

While we were there about 100 refugee broke the thin police line on the Serbia side and ran off in random directions. A few policemen followed and it was just a matter of time before they were collected again. The same happened a few times afterwards.

We tried to decode the events from a legal point of view: the police are holding the refugees for unauthorized crossing of country borders which is a misdemeanour (granted, these cases are rather atypical) and this amounts to limiting personal freedom. We haven’t seen any handcuffing or bodily restraint – the men are basically being directed by the police who are mostly using gestures. At this point, these people are not yet registered as asylum seekers.

According to the law, those affected should be brought in front of competent authorities within 8 hours after arrest. We have never seen arrests not followed by any legal action for hours on end but that is exactly what is happening in Röszke. (Since Agust 1st, asylum seekers can be kept up to 36 hours for registration, 24 hours in the case of those not applying for asylum).

After the misdemeanour procedure, registering and processing asylum claims would be an indispensable step for the authorities to find and help vulnerable groups (pregnant women, children or victims of torture). Those at the Collection Point are nowhere near this point.

It is essential that the new arrivals, all coming from countries emmitting refugees which are mostly Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, are granted an opportunity to submit their asylum claims immediately. Even after registration however, cases are drag in the Hungarian system which collapsed months ago. The Hungarian government practically left the Office for Migration and Citizenship Affairs to its own devices and the camps are overcrowded and the case workers are way too few and terribly overloaded.

It is clear to see that a forcible internment at the Collection Point is a breach of the prohibition of inhumane treatment. There is no standard in the world that would justify holding people in the open in temperatures as low as 5 degrees Celsius, without water or electricity and without any sort of legal advice.

Since, according to several doctors treating the refuge seekers, many are at risk of hypothermia and they are neither provided for nor are they allowed to leave the site (if they try, they are escorted back, often amid curses), the possibility of endangerment in the line of duty also arises. The occupational rules for policemen include protecting those in need and their human rights. Explicit rules are that those arrested should be informed of the reason of the arrest as well as a safe holding place and provisions.

At the same time who thinks they could cope better. Orders were to keep the people arriving until a vacancy at the registration office arises without anyone clarifying the exact legal nature of the Collection point.  The personnel and equipment for arrest and holding are not provided, the police cannot communicate effectively with those detained and the venue of the Collection Point as good as guarantees inhumane holding (this would be the case even if there were blankets, food and water available). Amid all of this, children are cold and crying, and many are sick or weak.

The police have been abandoned here just like the policemen stuck in the TV palace during the 2006 riots. Of course, those seeking refuge have also been abandoned and left to the civilians who are struggling to help as much as they can.

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