This past winter, as temperatures dropped to 20 below zero, the level of violence at Hungary’s border with Serbia increased sharply, with many describing acts that can only be seen as torture. People of all ages, some as young as 13, were beaten, stripped naked and ordered to lie face-down in the mud, snow or water for as long as an hour. Their clothing was taken or destroyed. Water poured down their necks. Eyes pepper sprayed. Batons struck against genitals. Forced selfies with laughing officers. All this performed by people in “dark blue uniforms” – official Hungarian border police.
Over the past two years, the Hungarian government has been running a “xenophobic scapegoating campaign” against migration, according to the Helsinki Committee. A 175 kilometer long fence has been setup along the Serbian-Hungarian border, while parallel efforts have been made to prevent the possibility of getting asylum through legal paths.
Meanwhile in Serbia, the number of refugees significantly exceeds the country’s accommodation capacity and is still growing. During one of the harshest winters in years, up to 2000 people have had no alternative but to sleep rough outdoors – on the streets of Belgrade or in the forests of the north. Without a safe place to stay in Serbia and no legal way to travel backwards, they’ve been stuck in limbo.
For most of them, attempting irregular crossings has become the only option. Nearly all of those who have tried encountered systematic brutality and humiliation regardless of their gender, age or nationality. Numerous cases of beatings, dog bites and other abuses at the hands of Hungarian border police have been reported by human rights organisations and activists during the past year. From January 2016 to February 2017, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) treated over a hundred people in Belgrade alone with intentional injuries allegedly perpetrated by the Hungarian border patrols.
Although the Hungarian authorities deny all the accusations, the enormous scale and clear pattern of violence leave no doubt: these are not just rare and isolated acts of brutality.