Hungary denies food to asylum seekers

Afghans and Syrians win emergency rulings at European court over no-meal policy

TOPSHOT - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (C) celebrates on podium on the bank of the Danube River after winning the parliamentary election with members of his FIDESZ party on April 8, 2018 in Budapest. / AFP PHOTO / ATTILA KISBENEDEK
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Two Syrian brothers were refused food for more than five days at a transit camp on Hungary’s border as part of an apparent state-sanctioned hunger policy designed to keep asylum seekers out of the country, rights workers said on Thursday.

Three Afghan families and the brothers have all secured emergency European court rulings to force the Hungarian authorities to give them food while they remained at two reception centres along the country’s notorious border fence with Serbia, rights group the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) said.

Charity officials said the no-meal policy appeared to be an attempt to force the migrants to abandon their bids for asylum, leave the camps and return to Serbia, a move which would rule out any fresh claim to enter the EU-member state.

The policy is just the latest harsh measure taken by the anti-migrant government of premier Viktor Orban, who erected fences along the borders with Croatia and Serbia as part of his policy to keep Hungary as a bastion of Christianity.


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His has been one of the most extreme voices among leaders of the European Union calling for tight restrictions on migration. Right-wing parties across Europe have successfully tapped into public discontent over migration to make electoral gains.

The new rule appears to have come into force this month and has seen children spilt from their parents at meal times. Children are fed but the enforced separation stops them from passing food to adults, according to rights workers.

Those affected by the policy included an Afghan family with a three-month-old baby who lost their claim for asylum on August 8. The father had fled Afghanistan as a child – where his father and brother were murdered – and then Iran where he met his wife to prevent conscription into the Iranian military, he told researchers.

The family was separated at meal times at the camp with the breastfeeding mother and her baby given food but the father stopped from eating, said rights workers. "The only option if they don't want to starve is to abandon their appeal and walk back to Serbia illegally," HHC official Andras Lederer told The National.

The family won an emergency ruling at the European Court of Human Rights which ordered the Hungarian government to resume feeding the father – one of four such orders in a week this month. They rulings are made only when “there is an imminent risk of irreparable harm”, according to the court. The Syrians were denied food in two stints over the course of eight days before the court ruled on their case. The case of a lone Afghan woman denied food is pending, the eighth person seeking to overturn the Hungarian policy.

“It’s completely outrageous and absurd that people have to turn to the courts to get a slice of bread,” said Lydia Gall, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The no-meal policy follows changes to asylum law as part of a package of measures that make it a criminal offence to help or support migrants and asylum seekers. The measures targeted the work of Hungarian-born financier George Soros, who has spent millions of dollars on civil society work.

The Orban government has painted the philanthropist as a secretive puppet master seeking to open the gates of the country to mass migration. The Hungarian government said on Thursday that the claims made by HHC were “yet another smear campaign of the Soros organisations”.

It said that every asylum seeker was “entitled to and is provided with care… If, however, an asylum seeker’s application is refused, he or she must leave the transit zone.”

An estimated 150 people are held in two transit camps, with only one person allowed to enter the camps every day to submit an asylum claim. Migrants stay in shipping-container style cabins with five to a room and rudimentary living conditions.

Containers set up in Hungary’s migrant transit zone become stiflingly hot in summer. Andras Lederer
Containers set up in Hungary's migrant transit zone become stiflingly hot in summer. Andras Lederer

Attempts by a former MP and one-time ally of Mr Orban to take publicly donated food to the camps were rebuffed last week, according to Hungarian media reports. Gabor Ivanyi – the head of a church in Budapest and now implacable foe of the premier – was shown being turned away by staff at the gates of one of the camps.

Gabor Ivanyi. Paul Peachey / The National
Gabor Ivanyi. Paul Peachey / The National

He told The National last year that he considered the premier a "devil who is on the path to damnation" because of his anti-migrant stance.

EU officials said in July that Hungary’s asylum process and its Stop Soros programme breached its laws. It referred the case to its highest court, which could fine Hungary if the government failed to bring its policies into line.