Living conditions and physical security
Detained asylum seekers have the right to unsupervised contact with their relatives, to send and receive correspondence, to practice religion and to spend at least one hour per day outdoors. The Asylum Decree also specifies minimum requirements for such facilities, including material conditions such as freedom of movement, access to open air, as well as access to recreational facilities, internet and phones, and a 24-hour availability of social workers. According to the Decree, there should be at least 15m3 of air space and 5m2 of floor space per person in the living quarters of asylum seekers, while for married couples and families with minor children there should be a separate living space of at least 8m2, taking the number of family members into account. In practice, asylum seekers’ time outdoors is not restricted during the day. They are able to make telephone calls every day, but only if they can afford to purchase a phone card, as their mobile phones are taken away by the authorities on arrival.
At the end of 2021, there were no asylum seekers placed in asylum detention. During the year 2021, there were only 2 asylum seekers detained, therefore there are no problems with overcrowding.
Men must be detained separately from women, with the exception of spouses, and families with children are also to be separated from other detainees.
Religious diet is always respected. Specific diets are taken into account, however the HHC is aware of a case, where the detainee despite the medical staff being aware of his medical conditions managed to get a special diet only after he refused to eat the regular food for several days. The nutritional value of the food is regulated in the legal act.
Asylum detention facilities are managed by the NDGAP. Security in the centres is provided by trained police officers. However, there are complaints of aggressive behaviour of the security guards in all the centres. The CPT in its latest report on its visit to Hungary writes:
“A considerable number of foreign nationals claimed that they had been subjected to physical ill treatment by police officers at the moment of apprehension, during transfer to a police establishment and/or during subsequent police questioning. It is of particular concern that some of these allegations were made by foreign nationals who claimed to be unaccompanied minors. In addition, a few allegations were received of physical ill-treatment by police officers and/or armed guards working in immigration or asylum detention facilities.”
Regarding records of ill-treatment, the CPT finds that “the records of medical consultations were often rather cursory, lacking details, in particular when it came to the recording of injuries. Moreover, it remained somewhat unclear to the delegation to what extent allegations of ill-treatment and related injuries were reported to the management and relevant authorities.”
In Nyírbátor, when escorted from the facility to court for hearings, or on other outings (such as to visit a hospital, bank or post office), detained asylum seekers are handcuffed and escorted on leashes, which are normally used for the accused in criminal proceedings.
Asylum seekers can access open-air freely, during the day (contrary to the immigration jails, where open-air access is guaranteed only one hour per day). Open-air space is of adequate size. Each centre also has a fitness room.
The Nyírbátor the open-air space is problematic. The yard is covered with sand, which makes it difficult to practice certain sports (e.g. basketball), and in rainy or cold weather it makes it almost impossible to pursue the sports activities. The detainees complained that the sand makes them very dirty and destroys their shoes. In addition, there are still no benches or trees to assure the shade or protection from the sunlight and rain.
Detainees have access to internet, one hour per day. The computer room was renovated in 2021, and computers work more efficiently than prior to the renovation. In Nyírbátor, the detention centre has a small library. Mobile phones are not allowed, but there is access to public phones inside the centre.
Transit zones (prior to their closure in May 2020)
The transit zones of Röszke and Tompa were in remote locations, made out of containers built into the border fence. They comprised different sectors: offices, a sector for families, a sector for unaccompanied minors, a sector for single men and a sector for single women. Containers were about 13 sq. meters in size (approximately 4 x 3 meters). Asylum seekers stayed in containers furnished with 5 beds. Each asylum-seeker had a bed and a closable wardrobe. When five people were staying in a room, there was no moving space left. In case a family consisted of more than 5 members, family members were accommodated in several accommodation units but without being placed together with non-family member persons.
The entire transit zone was surrounded by a razor-wire fence, and was patrolled by police officers and armed security guards; additionally, cameras were omnipresent, not allowing privacy to the residents. The prison nature of the transit zones was confirmed by reports published by, for instance, ECRI and CPT, which concluded that such an environment could not be considered adequate for the accommodation of asylum seekers, even less so where families and children were among them.
Until September 2017, there were no proper educational activities organised for children while, according to the Government, school activities started in the community rooms of the sectors on 4 September 2017. In the Tompa transit zone institute teachers were provided by the Kiskőrös Educational District, whereas in the Röszke transit zone institute teachers were provide by the Szeged Educational District. For children between the age of 6 and 16 years, school attendance was obligatory (see Access to Education).
There were no programmes organised for teenage unaccompanied children, who often complained of boredom. Their pens and pencils were also taken away because of security risk.
Meals were provided three times a day for adults and five times a day for children under fourteen. Catering was provided by the Szeged Strict- and Medium-Regime Prison. The food provided in a day must contain at least 10900 Kjoules of energy. However, asylum seekers whose claims were dismissed under the new inadmissibility ground entering into force in July 2018 were denied food in the transit zones. The former IAO only provided food after the ECtHR issued interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court (see Admissibility Procedure). The NDGAP did not provide food to adults in alien policing procedure held in the transit zone. The HHC obtained 12 interim measures under Rule 39 in such cases in 2019 and seven in 2020.
Asylum seekers could buy certain items via the social workers. A “shopping list” was compiled from which asylum-seekers could choose items to buy. Asylum seekers selected the items from the list, handed over the money, and when the items were bought, the social workers settled the accounts in writing.
Each sector had a TV. In the transit zones, free Wi-Fi was available and asylum-seekers could keep their mobile phones with them, but no public phones or computers were available. The asylum seekers reported of a very poor Wi-Fi connection, which only enabled them to send messages, not participate in calls. Those without personal mobile phone remained disconnected from the outside word.
Summer 2017 was extremely hot (over 30 degrees during the day) and at that time, there were no ventilators in the containers. Since August 2017, each room was equipped with a ventilator, and some shades and parasols were made available. Residents of the transit zones – who were often families with young children – still complained about the excessive heat over the summer, not enough parasols and also of bugs coming into the containers and biting them. Asylum seekers also reported that when they wanted to use bathroom facilities during winter, they had to walk from their containers to the bathroom containers through the very cold courtyard.
Asylum seekers were escorted by several police officers anytime they wanted to go to the medical container, to the interview, or to meet their lawyer. There were reports of people being handcuffed while being taken outside the transit zones to hospitals or to Western Union, however the handcuffing was no longer reported in 2018. They were nevertheless escorted to a hospital by armed policemen as if they were criminals.
On 2 March 2021, the ECtHR ruled in its judgment in R.R. and others v. Hungary that detention conditions in the Röszke transit zone amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The ECtHR pointed to the obligations under the Reception Conditions Directive that require the specific situation of minors and pregnant women to be taken into account, along with any special reception needs linked to their status throughout the duration of the asylum procedure. It observed that no individualised assessment of the special needs of the applicants were carried out by the Hungarian authorities. In view of, inter alia, the physical conditions of the containers in which the applicants were accommodated, the unsuitability of the facilities for children, the lack of professional psychological assistance and the duration of the stay in the transit zone, the Court found that the threshold of severity required to engage Article 3 of the ECHR had been reached, and Hungary had therefore violated the provision.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as a preventive measure in the asylum detention centre of Nyírbátor, as well as in the transit zones the visitor rooms and offices for the purpose of personal interviews had been installed with a plexiglass wall. In addition, the same preventive health safety measures on account of the COVID-19 pandemic are observed in asylum detention as in reception facilities (see above under Access to reception centres by third parties).
Access to health care in detention
Asylum seekers are entitled only to basic medical care. Paramedical nurses are present in the centre all the time and general practitioners regularly visit the facilities. However, medical care provided is often criticised by detainees. They rarely have access to specialist medical care when requested and are only taken to hospital in emergency cases. In severe cases of self-harm, detainees are taken to the local psychiatric ward. In the absence of interpretation services available, the patient is usually released after a short stay and some medical treatment provided. Such emergency interventions, however, do not contribute to detainees’ overall mental wellbeing and sometimes even fuel further tensions between them. Those, however, whose condition are not deemed to fall under the scope of emergency treatment, are not eligible to see a dentist, cardiologist or psychiatrist. No systematic, specialised and state-funded medical care and monitoring is ensured for victims of torture or other forms of violence in asylum or immigration detention. The detainees complain about receiving the same medication for a range of different medical problems (e.g. sleeping pills, aspirin). The language barrier is also an issue. There is no regular psychosocial support available in any of the detention centres. However, on a case by case basis, visits from Cordelia Foundation could be arranged. In 2021, the Foundation had 3 such visits. During consultation hours, interpretation is not provided in Nyírbátor. In the absence of regular, state-funded psychological counselling and regular mental healthcare, the tension deriving from the closed circumstances, lack of information and forced close contact of persons from different national, cultural and social backgrounds is not mitigated. Instances of self-harm, suicidal attempts or thoughts, as well as aggressive outbursts towards fellow detainees or guards were witnessed as regular during all monitoring visits in 2015. No updated information can be provided due to the fact that HHC is no longer allowed to monitor the situation in detention centres, but that does not mean that the conditions have necessarily improved.
Transit zones (prior to their closure in May 2020)
Each transit zone had a medical unit capable of accommodating 10 persons. A general practitioner was available for 4 hours on workdays, whereas a children’s doctor was available twice a week; in addition, a field surgeon was available in the transit zone every day, 24 hours a day. Where specialist care was needed, the person in need of such care was taken to the specialised medical institution, namely to one of the Medical Clinics of Szeged University or to Kiskunhalas Hospital and Polyclinic.
When pregnant women had to be taken for a medical examination, 2 or 3 policemen escorted them to a nearby hospital. A pregnant woman reported that the policemen had stayed in the examining room during her pre-natal medical check.
No interpretation was provided during the medical examination, which made communication and building confidence between doctor and patient extremely difficult. In one of the pending ECtHR cases, the Court’s interim measure granted explicitly requested the Hungarian government to provide interpretation at the medical check-ups of the applicant. Despite this interim measure being granted, the Hungarian government responded that according to the regulation they are only obliged to guarantee the translation during the administrative procedures and not during the medical examinations. Lack of interpretation during consultations with doctors remained an issue in the transit zones in Hungary, as the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants reiterated during his visit in July 2019 to the Hungarian transit zones at the southern border with Serbia. According to the UN Special Rapporteur, some asylum applicants reported cases where the doctor simply failed to provide a diagnosis due to communication barriers.
Asylum seekers complained that they only receive painkillers for any type of problem they reported. When being brought outside of the transit zone for medical check-up, asylum seekers were transported in a van fit for the transportation of criminals.
Since mid-November 2017, the former IAO and now NDGAP employed a clinical psychologist who spoke English and when an asylum seeker did not, a psychologist could request a translator. The psychologist visited both zones once a week. There were, however, reports of issues of interpretation and access. The psychiatrist started to visit the transit zones on 24 January 2018. The visit took place once a week. However, people complained that psychosocial care was not adequate, in particular there was no specific psychological care provided for children, often the psychologist would only talk to the parents and not to the child. Due to organisational shortcomings, there were periods when no psychologist or psychiatrist were present for a month or two, until their contracts were renewed.
There were no asylum seekers in detention infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus in 2020 and 2021.
Conditions for vulnerable asylum seekers
Under Section 31/F of the Asylum Act, detention must take into account special needs of the person concerned.
Vulnerable persons, except unaccompanied children, are not excluded from detention. HHC in the past regularly saw that persons with special needs such as the elderly, persons with mental or physical disability were detained and did not get adequate support. A mechanism to identify persons with special needs does not exist. The lack of a systematic identification mechanism led to the frequent detention of torture victims and other traumatised asylum seekers, as well as making existing legal safeguards ineffective. There are no special conditions for vulnerable asylum seekers in detention. An asylum seeker in 2021 was detained despite being in need of special medical treatment that was not available in detention.
There is no systematic training for those who order, uphold or carry out the detention of asylum seekers regarding the needs of victims of torture, rape or other serious acts of violence. It is therefore questionable to what extent the authority is capable to carry out the assessment of vulnerabilities and special needs in the framework of detention, given that no expert psychologists and doctors are employed to this end. The NDGAP may decide to use the assistance of external medical or psychological specialists. However, this is not a common or frequent practice.
Transit zones (prior to their closure in May 2020)
The transit zones were unfit for accommodating people for a longer period of time and were unfit for accommodating people belonging to vulnerable groups for even a shorter period of time. The conditions in the transit zones were dire and clearly did not meet international and EU law standards. Adequate care for vulnerable individuals was missing, similarly to systematic identification and support mechanisms for people with special needs.
Separate accommodation for vulnerable asylum seekers was missing. For example, single women and unaccompanied girls were usually held together in a sector with families (and therefore men and boys), and in general there were no private women-only places. There was no adequate support provided for victims of domestic violence, victims of torture and traumatised asylum seekers. Special needs of LGBTI people were not taken into account. The transit zones were not equipped to meet the needs of persons with mental or physical disabilities. For example, the HHC obtained an interim measure under Rule 39 in a case of an Iraqi family of six, with a 10-year-old child who was unable to use her limbs and was confined to a wheelchair. She was completely dependent on her parents in all aspects of everyday life and she faced severe difficulties living in the transit zone.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee submitted 15 requests for interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court of the European Court of Human Rights in order to obtain the release of vulnerable asylum seekers from the transit zones (14 families and one unaccompanied minor). All 15 interim measures were granted by the Court, and the Court requested the Hungarian government to place the applicants, as soon as possible, in conditions respecting Article 3 ECHR (see Detention of Vulnerable Applicants). In 2019, the HHC obtained 6 such interim measures.
On 2 March 2021, the ECtHR ruled in its judgment in R.R. and others v. Hungary that no individualised assessment of the special needs of the applicants was carried out by the Hungarian authorities. In view of, inter alia, the physical conditions of the containers in which the applicants were accommodated, the unsuitability of the facilities for children, the lack of professional psychological assistance and the duration of the stay in the transit zone, the Court found that the threshold of severity required to engage Article 3 had been reached, and Hungary had therefore violated the provision.
 Section 31/F(2) Asylum Act.
 Section 36/D Asylum Decree.
 Section 31/F(2) Asylum Act.
 CPT, Report to the Hungarian Government on the visit to Hungary carried out from 21 to 27 October 2015, 3 November 2016, para 16.
 Ibid, para 48.
 ECRI, Conclusions on the implementation of the recommendations in respect of Hungary subject to interim follow-up, 15 May 2018, 5; CPT, Report to the Hungarian Government on the visit to Hungary carried out by CPT from 20 to 26 October 2017, 18 September 2018.
 CPT, Report to the Hungarian Government on the visit to Hungary carried out by CPT from 20 to 26 October 2017, 18 September 2018.
 Reuters, ‘Hungary’s tough asylum policy keeps thousands stranded in Serbia’, 14 June 2017.
 As it can be seen in a video recording shot by asylum seekers staying in the transit zone besides children asking for release: https://bit.ly/37fHm3U.
 Information provided by the NDGAP on 2 March 2021 and by the HHC attorneys regarding the information concerning the transit zones.
 Information provided by NDGAP on 7 February 2022.
 Cordelia Foundation et al., From Torture to Detention: Access of Torture Survivor and Traumatised Asylum-Seekers to Rights and Care in Detention, Hungary and Bulgaria, January 2016, available at: https://bit.ly/2wnwOgs.
 ECtHR, R.R. v. Hungary, Application No 36037/17.
 FRA, Migration: Key fundamental rights concerns, Quarterly bulletin 4, 2019, http://bit.ly/30NBDe9.
 HHC, Safety-Net Torn Apart: Gender-based vulnerabilities in the Hungarian asylum system, 26 June 2018, 7-14, in particular 11.
 Information provided by the NDGAP on 2 March 2021 and on 7 February 2022.
 Cordelia Foundation et al., From Torture to Detention, January 2016.