Violence Against Refugees On The Hungary-Serbia Border!

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Hungarian police attack refugees on the border with Serbia. Photo credit: DAVID MAURICE SMITH
Hungarian police attack refugees on the border with Serbia. Photo credit: DAVID MAURICE SMITH

UN REFUGEE Agency UNHCR is concerned about Hungary’s new restrictive law, amid increased reports of violence, and a deterioration of the situation at border with Serbia.

UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a press briefing, on 15 July 2016, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva: ‘We are deeply concerned about further restrictions by Hungary leading to push-backs of people seeking asylum and reports about the use of violence and abuse.

‘These restrictions are at variance with EU and international law and reports of abuse need to be investigated. The number of refugees and migrants at the Serbia-Hungary border has reached over 1,400, including people waiting to enter the transit zones, as well as those at the Refugee Aid Point at Subotica.

‘The majority are women and children who are particularly affected by the deteriorating humanitarian situation. States have the obligation to guarantee that such people are treated humanely, in safety and dignity, and have access to asylum, if they so wish.

‘The new legislation extended border controls to an 8-kilometre area inside Hungarian territory, and authorizes the police to intercept people within this area and send them to the other side of the fence, often to remote areas without adequate services. Asylum-seekers are then instructed to go to one of the transit zones along the border to submit an asylum claim.

‘Currently, only two transit zones are functional along the 175-kilometre-long Serbian-Hungarian border at Röszke and Tompa, where on average only 15 individuals are admitted in each transit zone per day. Since the new legislation came into force, a total of 664 individuals were sent back through the fence. In addition, the government has significantly enhanced border security with 10,000 soldiers and police officers and also drone and helicopter surveillance.’

UNHCR also published a paper on Hungary as a Country of Asylum – Hungary as a country of asylum. Observations on restrictive legal measures and subsequent practice implemented between July 2015 and March 2016, May 2016. Spindler added: ‘UNHCR has continued to receive reports of abuse and violence occurring when people were apprehended within the transit zones, or in police detention facilities.

‘Reports include cases of bites by unleashed police dogs, the use of pepper spray and beatings. UNHCR has requested the Hungarian authorities to investigate these reports.

‘In early June, UNHCR issued a statement after a young Syrian refugee had drowned, when allegedly pushed back into the Tisza River.

‘The conditions for those waiting to enter the “transit zones” are dire. Individuals and families stay in the open or set up makeshift tents on muddy fields next to the fence.

‘Health and sanitation represent major challenges, and hygiene conditions are far from acceptable.

‘People waiting include infants, unaccompanied children, pregnant women and people with disabilities and other specific needs. Several hundred are sheltered by the government of Serbia in the Refugee Aid Point near Subotica, though capacity there is overstretched. In this context, people might further resort to the use of unscrupulous human smugglers who place them at further risk.

‘UNHCR, partners, and NGOs have stepped up assistance, including through the government of Serbia, by providing more food, water, medical, and other aid. UNHCR is present also to identify people with specific needs. On the 8th of July, UN Agencies in Serbia issued a joint press release expressing their concern over a further deterioration of the situation of refugees and migrants at the Serbia-Hungary border. In areas relevant to our mandate, UNHCR stands ready to support the governments of Hungary and Serbia to manage the situation at their common border.’

• Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders has denounced the exorbitant price governments and non-governmental organisations are required to pay to vaccinate vulnerable children. In the past few weeks, MSF has vaccinated more than 5,000 refugee children between ages six months and 15 years of age in several camps and settlements across Greece.

MSF vaccinated refugee children against ten diseases, including pneumonia. Pneumonia remains the single largest killer of children under five worldwide, and is particularly acute for children living in crises.

MSF called on Pfizer and GSK to drop the price of the pneumonia vaccine (PCV) for governments and humanitarian organisations in emergency contexts. MSF paid £50 (US$68.10) per dose for the pneumonia vaccine, which it bought through local pharmacies. This is 20 times more than the lowest global price of the vaccine, which is roughly £2.3 (US$3.10) per dose.

Despite vaccinating highly vulnerable children, humanitarian organisations such as MSF are unable to purchase vaccines at the lowest available price. This lowest global price for the pneumonia vaccine is only available to the world’s poorest countries through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Three doses of the pneumonia vaccine are needed to provide full protection for a child.

Another vaccine used by MSF during these campaigns protects children against six diseases and is also expensive, priced around £54 per dose. Governments and humanitarian organisations need tools to protect children living through one of the biggest crises of our times,’ said Dr Apostolos Veizis, Director of MSF’s Medical Operational Support Unit in Greece.

‘Pfizer and GSK must drop the price of the pneumonia vaccine. With the collapse of the healthcare systems in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, most children living in the camps and outside have not been immunised in their country or during the journey. These kids are living in horrendous conditions and should not pay the price of fleeing for their lives with their health. We have to protect them at all cost against pneumonia and other deadly diseases,’ said Veizis.

For more than six years, MSF has tried to negotiate a lower price for the pneumonia vaccine with its only two producers, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), in order to be able to protect crisis-affected children from pneumonia. So far, both pharmaceutical corporations have refused to reduce the price and there remains no solution in sight for populations living in crisis.

In May, MSF delivered the names of more than 416,000 people from 170 countries who signed a petition asking Pfizer and GSK to reduce the price of the pneumonia vaccine to $5 dollars per child (for all three doses) for crisis-affected populations and for all developing countries.

MSF vaccinated 3,000 children in Idomeni on the border between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in May, then in the camps of the Attica region in Central Greece, on the island of Samos, in Athens and in the coming weeks MSF will be vaccinating children in the camps of Epirus, and on the Island of Lesbos in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

l The situation on the Greek eastern Aegean islands housing the so-called refugee ‘hotspots’ has taken a dangerous turn over the past week, Eva Cossé Human Rights Warch Assistant Researcher, reported last Wednesday. According to reports by the media and non-governmental organisations, residents have attacked and intimidated asylum seekers, migrants, and international aid workers on Leros, which shelters about 690 of the approximately 57,000 migrants that are currently in Greece.

Similar reports have emerged from other Greek islands, including Lesbos. Cossé said: ‘In recent years, the majority of the Greek population has been largely generous and welcoming to the refugees, and of late, attacks had abated, despite the challenges posed by the large numbers of asylum seekers since the beginning of the refugee crisis, particularly on the islands.

‘So what has contributed to this worrying turn of events? There is no doubt that the atmosphere of frustration, chaos, and insecurity in Greece’s razor wire-fenced island camps plays a role. The camps are severely overcrowded, living conditions are filthy, basic shelter is in short supply, and police fail to protect the camp residents from violence and harassment.

‘Asylum seekers may end up in these conditions for months while their claims are processed. When people are forced to live in such conditions for long periods of time tensions flourish and violence can erupt. Reports of uncontrolled fights inside the camps in turn create fertile ground for far-right extremism and anti-immigrant rhetoric among the local population.’

She added: ‘To ease the tensions, it is also important for Greek authorities and the EU to take immediate steps to ensure the security and protection of asylum seekers and migrants inside the hotspots. Greece should not detain people in overcrowded and insanitary facilities and should speed up the processing of asylum claims to alleviate the pressure on the islands.’