Some 1,400 stuck at Hungarian-Serbian border amid dire conditions, UN refugee agency warns

15 Jul 2016

Some 1,400 stuck at Hungarian-Serbian border amid dire conditions, UN refugee agency warns

07-15-2016SerbiaHungary.jpg The United Nations refugee agency today expressed deep concern about a new restrictive law at the Hungarian-Serbian border, and urged Hungarian authorities to investigate reports of abuse and violence in transit zones and bitten by unleashed police dogs.

“New legislation extended border controls to an eight-kilometre range area inside Hungarian territory, and authorized the police to intercept people within that area and send them to the other side of the fence, often to remote areas without adequate services,” a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), William Spindler, told a press briefing in Geneva.

Since the new legislation came into force last month, a total of 664 individuals had been sent back through the fence, Mr. Spindler said.

He added that the Government had “significantly enhanced border security with 10,000 soldiers and police officers and also drone and helicopter surveillance.”

People stopped at the border are instructed to go to one of the transit zones to submit an asylum claim, a push-back that has resulted in more than 1,400 refugees and migrants stuck at the border. That includes infants, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women and persons with disabilities and other specific needs waiting to enter the transit zones.

“Currently, only two transit zones were functional along the 175-kilometre-long Serbian-Hungarian border, at Röszke and Tompa, where on average only 15 individuals were admitted in each transit zone per day,” said Mr. Spindler.

Health, hygiene and sanitation conditions posed serious challenges, with people staying in the open or setting up makeshift tents on muddy fields next to the fence. Mr. Spindler further noted that several hundred people were sheltered by the Government of Serbia in the Refugee Aid Point near Subotica but the capacity there was overstretched.

The spokesperson further said that the agency continued to receive reports of abuse and violence occurring when people were apprehended within the transit zones, or in police detention facilities.

“Such reports included cases of bites by unleashed police dogs, the use of pepper spray and beatings,” he said, adding that the agency has requested the Hungarian authorities to investigate those reports. He also recalled a UNHCR statement, issued in June, after a young Syrian refugee had drowned, when allegedly pushed back into the Tisza River.