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Handcuffs and leashes await asylum seekers in Hungary

EU Observer
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

BRUSSELS - Handcuffed and leashed, asylum seekers in Hungary often find themselves in deplorable conditions, says a report released on Tuesday (24 April) by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"They are handcuffed and leashed even when they have to go the post-office ... The use of these leashes is systemic in Hungary," Melita H. Sunjic of the UNHCR office in Brussels told EUobserver.

The leashes - usually a rope or chain attached to the handcuffs - are primarily used when escorting asylum seekers to court. But some have had to endure the humiliation when led to a doctor's office outside the detention facility.

"I was led like a dog," one Afghan detainee, who was taken to see a doctor, told Andrea Szobolits of the UNHCR on Monday.

The asylum seekers are detained in centres where physical and verbal abuse by guards is not uncommon.

"Guards beat us with their fists, kicked us with their hard booted legs, just because we started to shout and complain against the conditions," said one 27-year-old asylum-seeker from Somalia.

Some are holed up in cells for months with criminals - foreign nationals who have served their sentence in a Hungarian prison and are awaiting deportation. Others are sedated and given tranquilizers in a practice which has led to cases of addiction.

The UNHCR country report - released at the same time Hungary's Prime Minister Orban is in Brussels on a charm offensive to obtain badly-needed EU funds - says the country's asylum procedures have degraded since 2010 when new laws and policies shifted focus away from reception and onto stemming illegal immigration.

The European Commission started infringement proceedings against Hungary earlier this year following a series of new laws that allegedly violate EU rules.

Hungary modified its pre-existing asylum and aliens act in December 2010 to bring it in line with the EU returns directive. But while transposing the directive, it also introduced a harsher regime to curb illegal immigration, Szobolits noted.

People entering the country without proper identification are now treated like criminals, states the UNHCR study.

In the meantime, the number of asylum cases has plummeted. Hungary currently has around 1,700 asylum applicants, down 19.5 percent compared to 2010. Around 40 percent of those are from conflict-embroiled Afghanistan.

Many are shipped off to Serbia which has not granted anyone asylum in the past three years and which sometimes transfers people onto Greece, itself deemed unfit to handle asylum seekers by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights and by the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.

The treatment of asylum seekers in several member states could render it more difficult for the EU to establish its anticipated EU-wide common asylum system in the near future, Szobolits noted.

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom last June proposed changes to the asylum procedures directive that should help guarantee access to protection of applicants who end up crossing the paths of border guards or police officers.

"We need efficient and fair asylum procedures and adequate and comparable reception conditions for asylum seekers throughout the EU," she said , adding that the common asylum system, scheduled for this year, would be one of her top priorities.





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