Hungary: Anti-torture committee observed decent conditions in transit zones, but criticises treatment of irregular migrants when “pushed back” to Serbia

18-09-2018, 15:35 | Comments: 0
The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published a report on its most recent visit to Hungary from 20 to 26 October 2017, together with the response of the Hungarian authorities (see also the main findings of the CPT in the Executive Summary of the report).

The main objective was to examine the treatment and conditions of detention of foreign nationals detained under aliens’ legislation. The CPT delegation visited two transit zones at Röszke and Tompa situated on the border with Serbia and several other establishments, and, on the Serbian side of the border, it interviewed persons who had recently been “pushed back” to Serbia.

Although the delegation received no allegations of ill-treatment by staff in any of the establishments visited, many foreign nationals interviewed by the delegation, who had been apprehended in Hungary and escorted by Hungarian police through the border fence towards Serbia, shortly before the delegation’s visit, alleged that they had been physically ill-treated by Hungarian police officers in the context of their apprehension and return through the border fence (push-backs).

Given the frequency and consistency of allegations of ill-treatment, received by delegation members through individual interviews, with extensive supporting medical evidence gathered by the delegation’s doctor (including visible injuries displayed by the persons concerned), irregular migrants apprehended by Hungarian police officers risk being subjected to physical ill-treatment, according to the report.

In their reply, the Hungarian authorities state that the report “contains a large number of findings that are contrary to facts, which makes its nature political rather than professional.”

They stress that they created a system to prevent instances of ill-treatment and to protect police officers against false allegations of ill-treatment, but many such records – for example at the Csongrád County Border Police Division in Szeged – revealed a striking discrepancy between theory and practice. All records seen by the delegation were incomplete. The names and personal data of persons concerned were not recorded at all. In some cases, one single form was completed for a whole group of persons being escorted through the border fence (as opposed to individual records for each person). Further, photographs routinely showed only the faces of the persons concerned, whereas allegations of ill-treatment received usually related to blows to other parts of the body.

The report highlights that in the context of “push-backs”, there was no procedure which would assess the risk of ill-treatment following forcible removal (refoulement), and the CPT recommends that the Hungarian authorities put an end to “push backs” to the Serbian side of the border.

The CPT expresses its misgivings about the fact that all foreign nationals seeking international protection, including families with children and unaccompanied minors (14 to 18 years of age), are compelled to stay in the transit zones at Röszke and Tompa, while their asylum claims are being processed. The CPT recommends that the authorities fundamentally revise their policy regarding the holding of foreign nationals in transit zones. As a matter of priority, an end should be put to the accommodation of unaccompanied minors therein.

“It is clear from the Hungarian authorities’ response that the main concerns expressed by the CPT in this report remain valid”, said Mykola Gnatovskyy, President of the CPT. “I trust that the periodic visit which the Committee will carry out to Hungary later this year will provide an opportunity to discuss with the authorities the key issues raised in the report with a view to improving the situation of foreigners”, he added.

On a positive note, the CPT praises efforts by the Hungarian authorities to provide decent material conditions in the transit zones and to maintain the premises in a good state of repair and hygiene. That said, the overall design of the transit zones is far too carceral. Such an environment cannot be considered adequate for the accommodation of asylum-seekers, even less so when families and children are among them.

The report and response have been made public at the request of the Hungarian authorities.

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