Hungary uses ‘excessive’ violence against migrants, says MSF

Depression on the rise among stranded migrants. [Freedom House/Flickr]

The situation on the Balkan migration route is getting increasingly worrying, according to Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The organisation blames Hungary for using “excessive” violence against migrants stranded in the area.

In March, EU leaders decided to close down the Balkan route used by most migrants to reach Europe, leaving thousands of people trapped in the region.

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Doctors Without Borders (MSF) blamed EU leaders for the shortsightedness of their “closed-borders” policy, saying that the refugee problem was not solved and that thousands of vulnerable people were stranded in the Balkans.

Violence and abuse

MSF in Serbia recently warned that the situation had deteriorated.

MSF teams in Serbia have observed a worsening humanitarian and medical situation directly related to the border restrictions imposed on thousands of migrants and asylum seekers.

“In the last few months, an increasing number of our patients have reported cases of violence and abuse and showed physical trauma directly associated with violence. Many of these cases were allegedly perpetrated by Hungarian authorities,” MSF’s Head of Mission in Serbia Simon Burroughs said.

“We strongly condemn the use of excessive force and we urge the Hungarian authorities to take the necessary actions for these practices to stop,” he added.

The EU’s plans to relocate migrants among member states have so far brought poor results. In total just 3,056 people have been relocated (2,213 from Greece and 843 from Italy), while the Commission’s proposed target was 6,000 people per month.

Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán fiercely opposed the Commission’s relocation plan and said the country would hold a referendum on 2 October.

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Budapest says that the plan violates its national sovereignty and that “terrorists” might enter the country disguised as migrants.

Difficulties with asylum

MSF also noted that lately the possibility to apply for EU asylum through Hungary had been drastically reduced.

“It reached a new low in early July with a new policy that extends border controls to an eight-kilometre area inside Hungary, effectively allowing push-backs of people to Serbia. Dozens of families are stuck with the dilemma of waiting in appalling conditions or being exposed to further violence and abuse along dangerous smuggling routes,” MSF said.

Living in harsh conditions, 65% of asylum seekers reported that they were subject to physical trauma by people “wearing uniforms in the Hungarian territory” and 35% said they suffered violence from other sources (robbery, smugglers, and other migrants).

“We are extremely worried that the new measures recently adopted by Hungarian authorities will lead to increased violence against migrants, who are increasingly treated like criminals,” Burroughs added.

Depression on the rise

MSF believes that the introduction of restrictive border policies in March has created a particularly worrying situation at the border between Serbia and Hungary.  Many asylum seekers are psychologically affected and depression is on the rise.

The number of MSF patients diagnosed with depression increased to almost one in three (31.2%) in March, compared to 26.7% in October 2015. The proportion of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also increased over the same period (14% to 15.9%), as did those with anxiety (3.8% to 6.6%).

“Conditions here are unfit for human beings. Families are living in inappropriate tents, with no shower, clean water and with no access to basic services,” Burroughs said.

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