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Hungary: Refugee riot in the closed detention camp Békéscsaba

Most of the asylum seekers in Hungary are kept in closed camps, forced to wait in detention for the result of their asylum claim. There are also so called “open camps”, where asylum seekers are placed[1]. The decision on whether a refugee will be brought to an open or a closed camp, depends on her or his country of origin but also on the gender. Generalizing the cases of persons from same countries, refugees from states that have better chances to get asylum in Hungary (like Eritrea, Afghanistan and other countries) are ‘accommodated’ in open camps for asylum seekers, whereas others, whose asylum chances are considered to be bad due to their state of origin, are kept in detention for a uncertain period of time. The capacities of the immigration jails are: around 200 in Debrecen, around 200 in Békéscsaba, and around 130 people in Nyírbátor. This is a permanent violation of human rights by the Hungarian state and the European Union. After the detention of asylum seekers as general common standard in Hungary had been temporarily interrupted, it was re-established again in 2013. There are two ways how people usually get into a detention center in Hungary: On the one hand, there are people who were arrested in Hungary after crossing the border so that they are forced to apply for asylum in Hungary. On the other hand, there are those who were deported to Hungary from other EU-countries based on Dublin II-convention because they have finger prints in Hungary.

After a Hungerstrike of refugees of in October 2013 and a new wave of deportations the refugees started a riot inside the closed camp of Békéscsaba in November 2013, showing their frustration about being detained without reason, the inhuman conditions in the detention camp and the daily danger of sudden push back to Serbia. Their struggle for a freedom of movement, without being kept like prisoners, for the possibility to live without the threat to be deported from the EU, is a strong form of resistance of refugees against the european border system. M. is one of the 192 refugees who were there during the protest. A testimony…

Many times we made some small protests inside the camp in order to improve our conditions inside. For example we organized to reject food collectively.

It started all when they took us to the closed camp. After our asylum application we were brought there. In front of court they extend the cases for at least 2 months. Afterwards they keep us waiting. The closed camp is like a prison. In Békéscsaba there were about 200 people, distributed to 2 buildings. The conditions were quite bad. We couldn’t decide when to take food, or how much. It was also often bad food, or cold.

Then we heard that if one stays in the camp for 6 months they will deport us back [to outside of the EU/Serbia]. We didn’t know exactly what would happen after this 2 months that our case was extended. During this period I have seen that they deported people who have been there for 4 months (from Pakistan, Algeria, and other countries). They [the wardens, the police] would just come, without informing before and deporting them the same night or the early morning of the next day. The people were angry that they just deport us back. We came to seek for asylum and they would just push us back to Serbia. Some of the people who were deported didn’t even have a negative asylum decision.

We talked about it and what to do. When some refugees from Mali came new to the camp, they asked around what is going on. Why we are kept in detention: we are not criminals we are refugees. Then they started hungerstrike for freedom. It started the 10 of October 2013 and lasted for 8 days. On the 14 of October about 55 people from different countries joined the hungerstrike. The camp authorities came and said they should stop the hungerstrike immediately. The director promised that if they stop their hunger strike, he will accelerate their asylum procedure. But they didn’t trust these empty promises. After the 8th day of the hungerstrike- one on the guys fainted. He was brought to hospital. I also saw that there were people from the media, trying to get access to the camp for interviews.

After that they stopped the hungerstrike. 

Surprisingly after one week 7 of the 8 Malians, who had first started the hungerstrike, recived a negative asylum decision. To one of them they gave a positive answer. It was a direct reaction on their protest. If you get a negative decision in your asylum case you have 3 days time to make an appeal against that, in order to achieve that your case is checked by the court again. This means you have to wait one month more in the closed camp. But many of us don’t know that. Only one of the 7 made an appeal, the other 6 guys got deported to Serbia 4 days after. 

The situation now was the same as before. I only saw 2 people who had the possibilities to change from the prison camp to an open refugee-camp. In their case it was because of health problems. Girls are generally put to open camps. 

After about 2 weeks we organized a protest against our deportation and for freedom. It was after an incident, where they deported 3 Pakistanis that had been there 4 months.  The same happened to a group of Senegalese. It was without reason.  Some time after we heard that because of the cold in Serbia where they have no place to stay, one of them died. He froze to death, sleeping outside in the Serbian forests. Almost everyone participated in the protest. We stood outside in the yard, holding up signst were we wrote “no deport” and other slogans. It was a tense atmosphere, people were annoyed, standing up, protesting, shouting but everything stayed peaceful.  Our action was to invisible to the ‘o– it was directed to the authorities of the detention camp. The chiefs of the camp and the staff came and they told us they cannot do anything. They said, that they are like prison keepers. The order comes from Budapest and our protest wouldn’t change anything. Even they recommend us to cancel our asylum and leave Hungary. They told us our fingerprints would then only be registered in Hungary and we could claim asylum in another EU country. Even though we were peaceful many police came with dogs and stayed inside the camp until 3 am of the next day. I remember the police commissioner (head of police) of Békéscsaba city saying: if he would be in our position he would do the same.

We refused to give our names to the camp authorities and police, when they required a list of refugees who made the protest. The 8 hungerstrikers had done this before and we knew what had happened to them. During this protest there was no media present. But how could we address the public with our demands?

On the 11 of November, again 3 people got informed that they would be deported. I know it was a Monday. They reacted very angrily. The majority of refugees in Békéscsaba stood behind them. It was too much this time. Everything happened fastly. There was a meeting and after the lunch the riot started: things inside the prison were destroyed, glass broke, people were breaking the cameras and one of the buildings was set on fire. All the time everybody was saying ‘we need freedom’. I don’t know it exactly, I guess around 100 people from many different countries participated in the uprising. 2 people escaped at that time. 

All the staff from the camp, they ran away, even the security-guards. The reason why the asylum seekers did not run was that the detentions center authorities kept all our belongings and our money. Also the camp is far from the city. Some of us tried to break the gate to go out, so people outside could see them and hear their demands, simply make their feelings heard, but after one hour the police came. They kept people from going out. At first they evaquated the people that had not taken part in the riot. I saw many many police, completely armed, with dogs the entering, shouting that everybody should stop.

The same day the police transferred all of us to other closed camps all over Hungary, saying that the camp was not secure anymore. They didn’t allow some of us to pack their personal belongings. After one week we were were brought back to Békéscsaba. In the meantime one of the buildings had been renovated. When we came back the security-guards were behaving much stricter than before. The conditions had not changed, it had gotten worse.  Now they don’t tell people anymore in advance that they are facing deportation.  Before the riot, a person would be informed the same day about the upcoming forceful replacement, but now they just come, pick the asylum seekers up and deport them. 

For some time it seemed as if they would treat us better, maybe to prevent another protest of asylum seekers. The milk in the morning was now warm, and not anymore served cold. But still, the situation inside the detention is very bad. Even they forbid you to take another meal if you are still hungry.

Everything happened without public attention. The riot and its revolutionary potential did’nt leave the walls of the asylum-prison. The few reports focused on ‘the good work of the hungarian firefighters’, reproducing racist views on the migration issue and not contextualizing the refugee-riot as a as a collective and self-organized step to fight the border system. The border can be anywhere for illegalized people. It is a cruel system that divides people into those that have papers and those who have not, leaving the last group completely marginalized. But a dehumanisied society is a society that harms everyone. The fact that asylum seekeers that are kept in closed detention-centres needs more critical attention. To scandalize the bad conditions can’t be enough.

*M  decided to stay in the detention center, but he, like many other  refugees arriving in Hungary, didn’t get the chance to have a fair  asylum procedure. He was expulsed of the country by the Hungarian police  illegally, not having received the final negative asylum decision.

[1] the other two reception centres are in Debrecen and Bicske—so called non-secure facilities- where asylum seekers are able to freely leave these facilities during the day, for up to 24 hours.


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