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Human Rights Watch slams ‘cruel, violent’ Hungary over migrants

Hungarian police and soldiers accused of beating people up before forcibly expelling them back into Serbia

Published: Updated:

Human Rights Watch denounced Hungary Wednesday for “cruel and violent treatment” of migrants, accusing police and soldiers of beating people up before forcibly expelling them back into Serbia.

“Migrants at Hungary’s border are being summarily forced back to Serbia, in some cases with cruel and violent treatment, without consideration of their claims for protection,” the rights group said on its website.

The new report by the New York-based non-governmental organization includes testimony from interviews it made in April and May with 12 migrants who said they were brutally beaten and abused by officials as well as a local “civil militia” patrolling the border before being pushed back to Serbia.

“I haven’t even seen such beating in the movies,” said one man cited in the report. “They deliberately gave us bad injuries”.

Hungary is “breaking all the rules” and “summarily dismissing claims” by asylum seekers crossing from Serbia, said Lydia Gall, a HRW researcher.

“People who cross into Hungary without permission, including women and children, have been viciously beaten and forced back across the border,” she said. In an emailed statement sent to AFP, Budapest said it “rejects the claims”.

Only eight complaints have been filed during 2016 so far, and investigators have established that the cases were unfounded, said the statement by Hungary's interior ministry. HRW “is misconstruing the rules relating to the asylum proceedings out of obvious ignorance of the situation,” it said.

“Hungary observes the Schengen rules relating to border controls as well as the Geneva Convention”. Hungary also guarantees legal entry and the filing of asylum requests, it added.

Around 400,000 migrants and refugees passed through Hungary in 2015 before rightwing Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government sealed off its southern borders with razor wire and fences in the autumn.

The authorities also brought in tough new laws punishing illegal entry and vandalism of the fences, that have led to almost 3,000 convictions in fast-track trials, most resulting in expulsion orders.

Orban has said that mass immigration by Muslims threatens Europe’s security and its Christian identity, refusing to accept refugees from hotspots such as Syria under an EU quota scheme.

Despite the fence, the number of irregular migrants caught by the Hungarian police has been growing each month this year, to a total of around 17,500 as of the end of June.

In response, legislation that took effect July 5 allows Hungary's authorities to return any migrant found within eight kilometers (five miles) of the border to “transit zones” located in no-man's land between Hungary and Serbia.

Hungary has also restricted the number of people it allows each day into the transit zones where asylum claims can be submitted.