Life in the Hungarian transit zones: no proper food, medical care or education

The 'yard' in the Röszke transit zone
The 'yard' in the Röszke transit zone

An Afghan-Iranian family with three children waited eight months at the Serbian-Hungarian border to be able to apply for refugee status. After the long wait, in April 2017 they were admitted to the so-called ’transit zone’ where they were practically locked up behind barbed wire for four months. They told Atlatszo.hu about the inhumane conditions in the transit zone: no food for the father, harassment and doctor’s visits in handcuffs. Hungarian authorities want to keep the conditions in transit zones a secret, but we were shown cell phone photos that were taken inside.

There are two so-called transit zones at the Serbian-Hungarian border where asylum seekers wait for the decision about their asylum application. The Röszke and Tompa transit zones have space for 250 people each. Zoltán Somogyvári, an attorney with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee told Atlatszo that right now there are 470 asylum seekers living in the transit zones and 206 of them are children.

Press is not allowed to visit the transit zones but according to those who left and according to the European Court of Human Rights the conditions are inhumane.

Aras and Daria (not their real names) and their three kids were allowed to leave the transit zone a few days ago after they were admitted into the country, though they did not get refugee status – they are officially ’accepted’ by Hungary, which grants them fewer rights than refugee status, even though Hungarian authorities ruled that they had to leave Iran for political reasons and that they cannot be sent back either there or to any other country.

The family is now staying in the Vámosszabadi refugee camp but they can only stay there for 30 days. After that, they will be forced to leave and will have to try to make ends meet in Hungary without getting any help with integration into Hungarian society. Aras, the head of the family is desperate; he has no idea how he will support his family.

We wanted to talk to other asylum seekers as well and many of them promised to tell us their stories but they declined at the last minute. They are afraid to risk their refugee status or their ongoing asylum application by complaining to the press.

Life in the transit zone

“Nincs rendes étel, orvos, vagy oktatás, csak konténerek”- egy menedékkérő család beszámolója a röszkei tranzitzónáról from atlatszo.hu on Vimeo.

The two kids are 6 and 8 years old, and the heavily pregnant Daria is caring for the ten-month-old baby. Aras tells us that in the transit zone the kids had it the worst: they had nothing to do all day. They could not go to school and they had no toys, so they were arguing and fighting all day. Aras remembers one day when kids in the transit zone got into a fight. About 20 policemen appeared and told them that the next time they do this they will be sent back to Serbia.

Police check on asylum seekers in transit zones every day: they enter their living containers every morning around 5 or 6 a.m. If asylum seekers are still in bed, police drag the blankets off them so that they can do a head count.

Daria is from Afghanistan. Many years ago she saw the Taliban torture and kill her first husband. She fled to Iran with her two daughters; a huge scar on her face will always remind her of the terrors of her home country. She met Aras in Iran. They got married but they had to leave Iran because of political persecution.

They got as far as Greece where a trafficker promised to get them to Western Europe but told them that they need to separate from each other to be successful. Aras managed to get to the West but Daria and the kids were stuck in Macedonia. Aras turned back but he was caught by police in Hungary and put into a closed refugee camp. He keeps referring to it as a prison.

He applied for asylum in that camp so within a few months he was allowed to leave and he set out to find his family. He found them at the border in Macedonia, gave all his money to the traffickers so that they would let them go and then they all went to the Serbian-Hungarian border where they waited 8 months to be allowed into the transit zone. Their baby was born while they were on the road; the baby girl’s name means ’hope’.

No food and no interpreter

They were allowed to enter the Röszke transit zone in April 2017. They thought their troubles ended there but that was not the case. According to a new regulation, Aras was not entitled to food because he had already applied for asylum. He was not allowed to leave the transit zone and he could not buy any food inside, thus he had to eat what was left by the kids and his wife.

They did not want another baby but Daria got pregnant again and she is in the seventh month of her pregnancy right now. There is a doctor in the transit zone but he can only treat simple cases. If someone needs to see a specialist, they are put into handcuffs and taken to the hospital in Szeged.

Many parents choose not to seek medical attention because they do not want their kids to see them in handcuffs.

If asylum seekers have to stay in the hospital, there is always a policeman watching over them and they feel that it is really humiliating. A woman. for example, was taken to Szeged to give birth and she spent four days in the hospital. During the four days there was a policeman in her room constantly while her husband was in the transit zone and she could not even talk to him.

Daria needs constant medical attention but she was not given an interpreter thus she cannot communicate with her Hungarian doctor. Aras told us that many times when the baby was sick, they were not allowed to enter to doctor’s container but they were given medication through the fence.

They asked for maternity clothes for Daria and when they were refused she made them for herself out of the bedsheets. A few days later their container was raided at 11 pm and police went through their personal belongings. Even though they had not been told that it was forbidden to own a thread and needles inside the transit zone, all of these items were confiscated.

The family’s attorney is Barbara Pohárnok of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. After their petition the European Court of Human Rights told the Hungarian state to provide a shelter to the family that is not inhumane or humiliating. The second time the court also said that Daria has to be given an interpreter so that she can talk to her doctor and that Aras needs to be given food.

The Hungarian department of justice says conditions in the transit zones are good and they do not violate human rights.

Aras, Daria and the kids are waiting once again. They are under considerable stress: they have no idea what they will do once they have to leave the refugee camp in Vámosszabadi. They have no idea where they will live and how they will support themselves. Back in Iran Aras was working in the family business, he know how to fix small machinery such as garden equipment. But now he says he would be willing to do any work just to be able to put bread on his family’s table.

Written by Katalin Erdélyi

Video by Gergely Pápai

You can read the original story in Hungarian here.

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