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.
Currently there are 9 persons detained in asylum detention, 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, although this right is hindered in Nyírbátor where they only have a few old computers that work very slowly. In Nyírbátor, the detention centre has a small library. Mobile phones are not allowed, but there is access to public phones inside the centre.
The transit zones of Röszke and Tompa are in remote locations, made out of containers built into the border fence. There are different sectors: offices, a sector for families, a sector for unaccompanied minors, a sector for single men and a sector for single women. Containers are about 13 sq. meters in size (approximately 4 x 3 meters). Asylum seekers stay in containers furnished with 5 beds. Each asylum-seeker has a bed and a closable wardrobe. When five people are staying in a room, there is no moving space left. In case a family consists of more than 5 members, family members are accommodated in several accommodation units but without being placed together with non-family member persons.
Besides sleeping containers, there is a dining container, a community container, shower containers and an Ecumenical prayer room.
The containers are placed in a square and in the middle, there is a courtyard with a playground for children and a ping-pong table. The entire transit zone is surrounded by a razor-wire fence, and is patrolled by police officers and armed security guards. There are cameras in every corner; there is no privacy or silence. The carceral nature of the transit zones has been confirmed by reports published by, for instance, ECRI and CPT, which concluded that such an environment cannot be considered adequate for the accommodation of asylum seekers, even less so where families and children are among them.
Until September 2017, there were no proper educational activities organised for children. Only a programme aimed at very small children, organised by the social workers, was happening once or twice a week for few hours. There were no activities organized for teenagers or adults, therefore they had no opportunity to spend their time in a meaningful way.
According to the Government, school started in the community rooms of the sectors on 4 September 2017. In the Tompa institute teachers are provided by the Kiskőrös Educational District, whereas in the Röszke institute teachers are provide by the Szeged Educational District. For children between the age of 6 and 16 years, school attendance is obligatory (see Access to Education).
There are no programmes organised for teenage unaccompanied children, who often complain of boredom. Their pens and pencils are also taken away because of security risk.
Meals are provided three times a day for adults and five times a day for children under fourteen. Catering is 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: Appeal). The NDGAP still does 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.
Asylum seekers can buy certain items via the social workers. A “shopping list” has been compiled from which asylum-seekers can choose items to buy. Asylum seekers select the items from the list, hand over the money, and when the items have been bought, the social workers settle the accounts in writing.
Each sector has a TV. In the transit zones, free Wi-Fi is available and asylum-seekers may keep their mobile phones with them, but no public phones or computers are available. The asylum seekers complain of very poor Wi-Fi connection, which only enables them to send messages, not participate in calls. Those with no personal mobile phone remain disconnected from the outside word. This makes contact with the outside world, including legal representatives, particularly difficult.
Summer 2017 was extremely hot (over 30 degrees during the day) and at that time, there were no ventilators provided in the containers. People also could not leave the windows or doors of the containers opened because bugs would come in, and they complained of their bites. There was hardly any shading roof at the courtyard; therefore, people were obliged to stand in direct sunshine if they wanted to be outside during the day. As of August 2017, each room has a ventilator and there are some shades and parasols available. Residents of the transit zones – who are often families with young children – still complain about the excessive heat over the summer, not enough parasols and also of bugs coming into the containers and biting them. Making a draught is not possible since the windows and the doors are on the same side of the containers. Asylum seekers also complained that they want to use the bathroom or shower during winter, they have to walk from their containers to the bathroom containers through the very cold courtyard. The courtyard is covered with white gravel and when it rains, the entire outside area in the transit zone becomes so flooded that it is not possible to use the open-air part.
Asylum seekers are escorted by several police officers anytime they want 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 are still nevertheless escorted to a hospital by armed policemen as if they were criminals.
Different sources from international monitoring bodies contain information on the conditions in the transit zones (see Detention of Vulnerable Applicants).
CERD – in its concluding observations – recommended to the Hungarian authorities to take measures to improve conditions in transit zones, including for women and children, and ensure full access to adequate medical services, education, social and psychological services and legal aid.
Section 31/F(2) Asylum Act.
Section 36/D Asylum Decree.
Section 31/F(2) Asylum Act.
[4CPT, 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.
See e.g. HHC, Crossing a red line: How EU countries undermine the right to liberty by expanding the use of detention of asylum seekers upon entry, February 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2DQJo7U; Budapest Beacon, ‘Hungary’s transit zones are prisons where pregnant women are handcuffed and children go hungry’, 14 June 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2HApcIn; Honvedelem, ‘Belügyminiszterilátogatás a transit zónában’, 6 April 2017, available in Hungarian at: http://bit.ly/2CzOL8Z;Atlaszo, ‘Life in the Hungarian transit zones: no proper food, medical care or education’, 30 August 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2sGBhsj; András Lederer, ‘Transit zone – summer 2017’, available at: http://bit.ly/2HAaYYa; S&D, ‘Conditions refugees are facing in Hungary are appalling – the Commission must act’, 9 May 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2pjrpTe.
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Concluding observations on the combined eighteenth to twenty-fifth periodic reports of Hungary, 10 May 2019, http://bit.ly/3615xfJ.