‘Border hunters’ epitomise Hungary’s hostile policies
London - Dressed all in blue, a cohort of Hungary’s new border hunters stands at the ready at a firing range. “Ready? One, two, three… fire,” calls the instructor. The border hunters pull out their pistols in unison and fire at their assigned targets. Welcome to Hungary.
Hungary’s border hunters task force is commissioned with capturing asylum seekers who would subsequently be confined in converted shipping containers until a hearing can be held to assess their asylum claim. A total of 324 shipping containers have been installed at two “transit zones” to house detainees.
The move comes after a vote by Hungary’s parliament to reinstate the detention of all asylum applicants, a practice that was suspended in 2013 following major international pressure from the European Union, UN human rights groups and the European Court of Human Rights.
“This new law violates Hungary’s obligation under international and EU laws and will have a terrible physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered,” warned UNHCR Senior Communications Officer Cecile Pouilly.
“Under international and EU laws, the detention of refugees and asylum seekers can only be justified on a limited number of grounds and only where it is necessary, reasonable and proportionate… children should never be detained under any conditions,” she added.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe Gauri van Gulik also criticised the move. “Plans to automatically detain some of the world’s most vulnerable people in shipping containers behind razor wire fences, sometimes for months on end, are beyond the pale. This new border detention package is just the latest in Hungary’s aggressive crackdown on refugees and migrants,” she said.
There has been particular concern expressed about the effect this will have on minors. “These measures will even be applied to children, a flagrant violation of international and European law…” van Gulik said. “We are urging the EU to step up and show Hungary that such illegal and deeply inhumane measures have consequences. Dumping all refugees and migrants into containers isn’t a refugee policy — it’s avoiding one.”
The first of Hungary’s border hunters have been sworn in and are preparing to augment Hungary’s 10,000-strong security forces along its borders with Serbia and Croatia. The border hunters are equipped with pistols, pepper spray, batons and handcuffs. New recruits are given six months of training and must pass a physical and psychological test, Hungarian state police said.
Hungarian police have advertised for 3,000 border hunters but there have been reports about the difficulty of finding the right recruits. “The name is part of the problem as it attracts the wrong kind of applicant,” Hungarian police told BBC News.
Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been heavily criticised for his policy and discourse about immigration, including claims that Hungary was “under siege” by migrants from Muslim countries who are threatening Europe’s Christian identity.
“We are still under attack,” Orban told a graduating class of border hunters after describing immigration as a “Trojan Horse of terrorism”. He warned that Hungary must do more to protect its identity. “The storm has not blown itself out,” he said.
Orban’s escalating discourse comes ahead of an October 2nd referendum on a European Commission proposal to relocate an estimated 160,000 refugees more fairly across the European Union. Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party are calling on Hungarians to oppose the EU plan under which Hungary has been asked to accept 1,300 refugees. Government statistics indicate that out of 177,135 asylum applications to Hungary in 2015, just 145 were approved.
Hungary’s government is known to be one of the most unfriendly in Europe to refugees and asylum seekers and has come under criticism for erecting a barbed-wire fence in 2015 along its southern border to stop the flow of migrants into Central and Western Europe. Budapest began constructing a second line of fencing along its border with Serbia in February, citing pressure on Hungary as the gateway to the Schengen area.
There have been increasing reports, including from Doctors without Borders (MSF), of “widespread and systematic” violence by security forces towards asylum seekers. MSF said it had treated hundreds of migrants, including children, for injuries caused by dog bites, beatings and pepper spray.
“People tell us that they are beaten, made to lie on the ground while police officers stomp on them wearing boots… It’s like a ‘standard package of abuse’, a ritual of brutality at the EU’s own border designed to stop people from trying to cross,” said MSF General Director Christopher Stokes.
“It’s just shocking that this is happening with European leaders turning a blind eye,” he added.