A simple dream
As the sun begins to rise on the horizon on a late August morning and anxious people try to get a head start on the day, two men walk leisurely on the edge of the town, strolling towards the nearby supermarket just as they have done for the past six months. They offer smiles and greetings for everyone, but receive awkward, sometimes exasperated glances in return. They are refugees, who have been living in a reception centre in Bicske, about 36 kms from Budapest, since they travelled to Hungary to escape the conflict in their own country.
says Barzan Mizori who came from Syrian Kurdistan half a year ago.
“We do not care about the money, we do not want to go to Germany or Sweden like the others do. Hungary is our number one priority. The camp is good, we spend all of our time there or in the town,” says Mizori.
The reception centre was established in 1989 and today it is one of the four refugee camps providing temporary shelter across Hungary. The place was picked because of its convenient location, close to the capital city and situated on the Budapest-Vienna railway line – a fact that proved to be very important last year, when the town became the centre of attention during the refugee crisis which saw over one million refugees and migrants arrive in the European Union.
It has been a year since hundreds of refugees have been tricked into taking a train from Budapest’s Keleti railway station, –where they have been stranded for days after being stopped from boarding trains to Germany- which was halted in Bicske in an attempt to take them to the facility. The camp is supposed to hold about 500 people, but usually operates well above capacity – at one point this year some 1200 were staying there.
Since the beginning of the migration crisis Hungary has seen the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, as recent statistics showed that 79 per cent of the respondents are against refugees, even though they think that 42 per cent of them are escaping death – in the meantime they believe that 56 per cent of them are economic migrants and two per cent are terrorists.
The number of inhabitants in the refugee camp in Bicske varied as many of them decides to stay there for only a couple of days before leaving for Austria, but they are quickly replaced by others. As of the 8th of September this year, the camp was a temporary home to 162 people, according to the Office of Immigration and Nationality.
says Márta Szabóné who works at TESCO nearby the camp, the most popular place for refugees to do their daily shopping.
“They do cause some problems for the Hungarian people. They do not follow the rules, they stole things, they littered the streets and there have been fights as well.”
Statistics show that only three per cent of the crimes have been committed by foreign (it was not specified whether they were refugees or not) people, but the citizens of Bicske remain distrustful towards migrants.
“I do not want them to come here, to come near the Hungarian people. We, Hungarians should be here, not them,” says Szabóné “Our prime minister is completely right, we have to end this. They should just stay in their own country.”
According to the Hungarian Helsinki Committee 65 per cent of asylum-seekers in Hungary came from war- and terror-torn countries in 2016, and in the end of July, 1237 persons have been hosted in the facilities of the Office of Immigration and Nationality. Open reception centres such as Bicske accommodated 541 people whilst 696 stayed in specific “asylum jails”.
“Hungary is just a gate for them,” says Ahmed Bistawy an Egyptian volunteer who works in the camp twice a week, helping the doctors in translation.“They don’t want to steal, they don’t want to rape, they don’t want to stay,”
People are against them because of the government propaganda,” he says.
Earlier this year the government has announced that they are going to close the reception centre by December 31. There is no information on what is going to happen to the refugees living in the facility as the Office of Immigration and Nationality said that they were “still working on the details of the closure of the camp”. However, the decision was generally welcomed by residents of Bicske, as they believe that the town spent enough time housing refugees.
The unwelcoming feeling in Bicske represents a wider issue through the whole nation, which is fuelled by an anti-refugee propaganda through the media. The country has also seen thousands of government-funded (~10 million euros) billboards built across the country carrying messages that link migration with terrorism and crime. “Did you know? Since the beginning of the migration crisis more than 300 people died in terror attacks in Europe.” one of them says, while another one asks: “Did you know that Brussels wants to deport the equivalent of a city of migrants to Hungary?”
In February, Viktor Orban, Hungarian Prime Minister and FIDESZ leader, announced that the country is going to hold a referendum on October 2 on whether to approve or reject the EU quotas under which Hungary would have to resettle 1,294 refugees.
The question that is going to be asked from the 8 million voters (50% of them have to show up in order to have a valid outcome): “Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?”
According to a survey by Publicus Institute 53% of the people plan to vote in the referendum while another 27% said that it is likely that they will turn up on the day.
Andras Szakacs, a political analyst at the Centre for Fair Political Analysis says that the legality of the referendum is questionable and it is just another tool for FIDESZ-KDNP to extend their popularity.
“The actual purpose is to form an agenda and to have total control over the media. It would be useless to legitimize the government’s policy with a referendum, since every research show that the majority of the people agree with it,” he says.
“However it is going to provide an excellent reference in foreign policy and strengthen the anti-democratic picture of Brussels in the ongoing Budapest-Brussels war.”
Although the government says that the referendum is legitimate, Hungary is bound by international agreements and the responsibilities deriving from them that cannot be overlooked – such as processing applications on the border and decide whether individuals are eligible for asylum.
Over the past year, Hungary has erected a massive razor wire fence on its southern frontier to block refugees and migrants from entering the country, establishing two transit zones on its border with Serbia where they could apply for asylum.
The fence and earlier legal changes reduced the flow of migrants significantly, but it did not prove to be that effective as many of them still attempt to cross the border. As a result, the government passed a new law in July 2016 under which refugees and migrants caught within 8 kms (5 miles) of its southern border will be forced back to the Serbian side by the police or unidentified vigilante groups.
says Aiski Ryökäs, project coordinator at the Migrant Solidarity Group in Hungary “The vigilante groups can tie refugee’s hands behind their backs with plastic ties, they can beat them, they may use dogs and pepper spray on them and then they cut holes on the fence and make them crawl without hands so they will definitely cut themselves and they are bleeding. Many have also reported to be robbed.”
Human Rights Watch also carried out a research, interviewing forty-one asylum seekers and migrants in the transit zones and in Serbia who claimed to have received such treatment, but the Ministry of Interior rejected the claims saying that “Human Rights Watch is misconstruing the rules relating to the asylum proceedings out of obvious ignorance of the situation.”
“Things felt brutal last year but what is happening now is so much worse.” says Ryökäs