Breakdown is imminent, says the policeman who breaks the rules and speaks to a journalist

Author: Péter KÖVESDI Original title:  Hajszálon múlhat, mikor omlik össze
Publication: VASÁRNAPI HÍREK , Photo: MTI – Zoltán Gergely KELEMEN Date: 12/09/2015

Breakdown is imminent, says the policeman who breaks the rules and speaks to a journalist

I’m sitting in a pub in Csongrád County with P. He is a policeman, he spent the past few weeks mostly in Röszke. We met through a friend. P. specifies that I must not reveal his name, his rank and his station. He is not scared as such, but the rules prohibit police personnel to talk to journalists. His reason to break the rules is simple: he wants to share his and other police officers’ point of view in the current situation.

– Shall we have a beer?

– I can’t. I might be summoned any time.

But you are off duty today, aren’t you?

– In theory, but in reality we are on standby.

When did you finish your shift?

– I got home at night. We were on 16-hour duty at the fence. (the fence of the refugee camp at Röszke – editor)

– How is it organised? I assume there is a list of personnel on duty, and you work by that.

– Exactly. Let’s say I start at eight in the morning, I tell the missus I will be home by half past four, I report on duty and ask about my tasks. We go to Röszke – almost every day now. We never see the end of it. When we are told our shift is over, we leave. This is usually after sixteen hours. Or sometimes twenty-four.

– How are you coping?

– I’m more or less okay, but I can see that some of my colleagues are close to breaking down.

– Is it because you have a lot more work than usual?

– It’s because we didn’t sign up for this. And we are not trained for such a situation. We are trained to contain aggressive, raging crowds. But none of us was taught what to do when families with small children disobey our orders. We have to deal with it and sort it out as best we can. I have a friend who has been in the armed forces longer than me. We had a chat on duty the other day. He said there was a point when he was very close to quitting. He is fed up. This is intolerable. It gets to you so much, it gets on your nerves. I think there will be a big number of policemen leaving the force in a month or two; not now though, because we don’t leave one another in the lurch, we stick together more than that.

– You serve in the Southern Region of Hungary, there were people crossing the border illegally before, we call them migrants now. When people started flocking in from Kosovo, did your commanders warn you about the impending extra work?

– Perhaps a few days before the first wave.

-What’s the difference between the refugees from Kosovo last year, and this wave of refugees now?

– Communication was easier. They came from the Balkans, but their gestures, values were European. For example, if a Syrian or Afghan family gets tired, they just sit down where they are, and they don’t have any problem with this. They don’t understand why they are put in custody, as they say they had done nothing wrong.

– Did you get any extra information this time? Press reported before the first wave of arrivals that refugees reached the Greek shores and landed on the islands.

– We weren’t told anything. We only found out from the media. To be honest I think we are here to patch things up. If there aren’t enough border guards, the police are called in. Of course there must be complicated issues up top, and there is no time for explanations. This is the police, we follow the orders we are given. But we are out there every day, we see what we see and we make suggestions to our superiors, we give them ideas how things could be improved. Nothing ever happens. We can say all we want about how to sort out the problem of people crowding the buses; nobody listens. Do you know what happened yesterday? They broke out of the centre. They are not our enemies or anything, they are just tired of waiting. Sometimes we have the feeling that people at the highest level think the worse it gets, the better it is.

– Is this a political opinion?

– No. Just a feeling. We are not allowed to express political opinions. Yet politicians are allowed to reinforce their reasoning by deploying us. We are used to it.

– What do you think about the fence?

– I think there isn’t a better solution right ow. Not this fence, but the one being constructed. At least it filters the crowd and directs people to three main locations. By the way, I advise those who think Hungary treats migrants in a way unworthy of Europe to look at what the French did with their illegal migrants. They demolished the camps, put people on a plane and sent them back to where they came from.

– But this is a completely different situation, we don’t have camps like those.

– Not yet. But let’s see what happens in two years.

– Do you think you might by guarding a refugee camp in two years?

– I hope not, but it looks like I might. It’s all very chaotic and disorganised now. It should be decided what to do about these people. Europe should decide first, then us. Today we are only a transit country, but a lot of refugees think it’s not such a bad place. Policemen don’t beat them, they are given food, all they need is a chance to work. One time this Syrian lad came and asked whether I knew how he could get a job. He wanted to do construction work, that’s what he is trained in. He said his brother was waiting for him in Germany, but he would probably stay here if he could find work.

– Other than this lad, have you had any personal contact with these people? Do you have time, do you have a chance to ask them where they came from, where they are going, why they have fled their countries?

– If I meet one who speaks English at least as much as I do, I talk to them. I usually try to find one in each group who I can communicate with, and I tell him what to expect. This usually helps. They prefer to know what to expect, even if it’s unpleasant, for them it’s better than being uninformed. In my experience it is possible to communicate well with Syrians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis. Afghans are tough. They were fighters back home, they don’t care when I tell them “guys please follow me to the refugee centre”. They just walk on. If there is a riot somewhere, it’s the Afghans for sure.

– Is dealing with children the most difficult?

– Not at all. That’s the easiest. They usually like it when we make them laugh. And this reassures other members of their family too. Sometimes we stand guard and a little Syrian boy or girl comes and offers us a biscuit from the food donations.

– Yet we see a lot of pictures of mothers holding screaming babies in front of the policemen.

– Well, what can I say? It’s easy to use pictures of kids in a situation like this. Kids don’t understand what’s going on, lots of policemen everywhere and all, of course they cry. A three-year-old screaming in your face for an hour, well, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s quite frustrating. And a policemen who has been on duty for thirty-two hours will not be as understanding as a policemen in the eighth hour of his duty. If you have to tell someone forty-five times that they are not allowed to go through, you can’t help it, you lose control. And yes, we sometimes shout. I haven’t seen any of my colleagues use violence, but this can and will happen I’m sure. I can see how fatigued the crew is. After twenty-four hours of duty, when I don’t know when I would eat and rest, I might lose control.

-I know this is not the most important question, but I must ask, as there were several reports about unpaid overtime: do you get paid for the extra work?

– In theory we do. But we used up all the available paid leave now. Some colleagues do 176 working hours plus 136 hours overtime. We got paid for our overtime last month. But many don’t want the extra pay, they want time with their families and time to get a bit of rest. Otherwise things will go pear-shaped.

– We read that psychologists give police personnel trainings to cope better with the pressure. Did you attend such training?

– Well, let’s just say we have read about these trainings too.

– We also heard that the pressure will ease a little as trainee police recruits are going to relieve you of some of the work.

– We think it is a mistake to involve them. They don’t have enough training and experience. Okay, they can salute, this is nice, but it is useless in the field. What if they have to make a stand in front of two thousand refugees throwing stones at them? What will these kids do? Do they have any experience they can fall back on? They are 19-year-old lads, and if this is their first experience in working for the police, they won’t last long. And I can’t blame them. As for soldiers, all I know is what I’ve heard in the media.

– Do you agree with the army being granted the same authorisation as the police?

– This is a question of legislation, we aren’t qualified to comment on that. We will welcome them because they take a load off our backs.

– I guess you and your colleagues talk about the new law which declares it a criminal offense to cross the borders illegally. Do you think it’s a good solution to the problem?

– It’s stupid to criminalise refugees. Laws are useless if they can’t be enforced. Refugees won’t be locked up by the thousands, I think the strictest sentence will be expulsion from the country. And refugees will want travel through Hungary to other countries, no matter what, so we will have no choice but to use force. If not us, than the army. It won’t solve anything, it just leads to a protracted crisis. And there will be clashes. It’s inevitable.

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