Just a quick trip to the refugee camp in Bicske, a small town outside Budapest, before the camp closes at the end of December. Bicske, which has been operating as a refugee facility for over two decades, is being shut down as part of a government-mandated wave of camp closures.
It is difficult to say what will happen to the refugees who live there—on the day of my visit there were 75 individuals in the camp, hailing from Cuba, Nigeria, Cameroon, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—or for that matter to the camp director and the social workers taking care of the camp residents. Human rights advocates and some NGOs believe that the Fidesz government’s decision to close the camp is not simply a matter of allocation of resources but part of a broader political strategy to push refugees out of Hungary.
Bicske, which could house as many as 460 refugees is operating well below capacity. The number of asylum applicants in the country has decreased dramatically over the past months. According to data from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, in October 2016, 1198 refugees registered for asylum in Hungary compared with 5812 in April 2016. As of October 2016, there were 529 asylum-seekers staying in Hungarian refugee reception facilities: 318 at open reception centers such as Bicske and 211 in detention centers.
The Budapest Beacon reported that the refugees will be relocated to a camp in Kiskunhalas in southern Hungary, some two and a half hours by train from Budapest.
The Bicske camp’s location has offered its residents opportunities to access a variety of educational and recreational activities that help them adjust to life in Hungary. Some refugees commute to Budapest to attend classes at the Central European University as well as language courses provided by NGOs. Bicske residents often attend events and meet with Hungarian mentors from groups such as Artemisszió multicultural foundation and MigSzol. Christian refugees are bused to an American church each Sunday morning. Moving the residents to Kiskunhalas will deprive them of these opportunities.
The Hungarian government offers very few resources to refugees — both to those in reception facilities awaiting decisions on their cases and those who have received asylum in Hungary. Access to the civil society organizations helping refugees prepare for their new lives is key.
The Hungarian police is recruiting 3,000 “border-hunters” to join some 10,000 police and soldiers patrolling a razor-wire fence built to stop refugees crossing the border from Serbia. The recruitment posts are scattered all over Budapest, including the Keleti Railway Station that became a de facto refugee camp for tens of thousands of people fleeing violence in the Middle East and Afghanistan in the summer of 2015.
Ten thousand police and three thousand “border-hunters” to deal with fewer than 200 refugees that are reaching Hungary’s southern border with Serbia every day. As we travel from Keleti to the refugee camp in Bicske, I ask my research assistant to find out more about the “border-hunters.”They have to have a high school diploma and will receive a six months training that will prepare them for the job. They will apparently be earning approximately 200,000 HUF (or $709) a month, and there will be other perks: housing and clothing allowance, and discount on travel and cell phones. The recruiter cannot–or does not want–to answer how many people he managed to recruit today.
During a recruiting fair in early October, a pack of teenagers ogled a display of machine guns, batons, and riot gear. A glossy flier included a picture of patrols in 4x4s, super-cool equipment to detect body heat, night-vision goggles and migrant-sniffing dogs.
Because that’s how Hungary’s new “border-hunters” roll.
The country that once sat behind the Iron Curtain is offering a glimpse into a world where the build-a-wall mentality to keep refugees out rules the land.
Foto by Elzbieta M. Gozdziak
Caption Translation: Do not take chances, vote “No”
In October 2 referendum Hungarians were asked a simple question: “Do you want the European Union to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of the National Assembly?” Voter turnout was only 39 percent, far short of the 50 percent participation required to make the referendum valid under Hungarian law. Never one to let facts get in the way of politics, the Prime Minister, Victor Orbán, whose Eurosceptic Fidesz party has more support than all opposition parties combined, said in a televised speech: “The European Union’s proposal is to let the migrants in and distribute them in mandatory fashion among the member states and for Brussels to decide about this distribution. Hungarians today considered this proposal and they rejected it. Hungarians decided that only we Hungarians can decide with whom we want to live. The question was ‘Brussels or Budapest’ and we decided this issue is exclusively the competence of Budapest.” Orbán, the Victorious, as he is called by the opposition, decided that the 3.3 million Hungarians who voted “No” in the referendum speak for the whole country of 10 million Hungarians. After his speech, there were fireworks over the Danube River in the colors of the Hungarian flag. The EU asked Hungary to find homes for 1,294 refugees who fled war. But rather than accept it, the Hungarian Government spent 16 million euro on a xenophobic anti-immigrant campaign. This is over 12,000 euro per refugee! This amount would have gone a long way towards providing refugees with livelihoods in a country where people live on about 257,000 HUF or $857 a month. In order to prevent the European Union from sending refugees to Hungary, Mr. Orban has proposed a constitutional amendment to reflect “the will of the people.” It was presented to the Parliament on October 10, and, if approved, it would come into effect on November 8. I wonder if any of the other Visegrád Four countries—Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia–could seek to emulate Hungary and concoct a moot referendum of their own. Anti-immigrant sentiments and xenophobic rhetoric are on the rise in Poland where Mr. Orbán’s friend, Lech Kaczyński, the Chairman of the Law and Justice ruling party, spews the same hatred of Muslim refugees. Sadly, EU institutions, including the European Commission and Council, have remained virtually silent on the Hungarian government’s hate campaign and the referendum.