• The fence along the Hungary-Serbia border continues to be seen effective by the government but locals and activists say that it “makes no sense”.
  • The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Hungary arbitrarily detained two children who applied for asylum in 2016.

A new report by Balkan Insight on the situation of the Hungary-Serbia border has shown that people on both sides find the border fence ineffective as both migrants and smugglers continue to find “weak points” through which to cross. Respondents also express mixed feelings towards migrants attempting to cross the fence.  “Many people want to help, but no one likes to hear gunfire from the woods or armed men marching outside their house. Understandably, people are afraid,” Ida Boka, a freelance journalist and activist on the Serbian side, said.  Moreover, the report raises a number of important issues. The first relates to the unknown cost of the fence and the companies involved in its construction and reinforcement. The second concerns the lack of official data on the number of people getting through the fence, especially with the “embassy system” that has been implemented since 2020. “If someone arrives in Hungary by plane without a visa and wants to seek asylum, they are taken to the Serbian border, pushed back and shown the way to Belgrade,” said Aniko Bakonyi, from ECRE member organisation the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC). “If they’re lucky, they won’t get beaten up.” “There is no functional asylum system in Hungary,” said Bakonyi, adding: “People seeking protection are falling into the hands of smugglers”. The third issue is related to the government’s view on the fence. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s far-right government sees the fence as a “political symbol and an effective, practical defence tool” which comes in “handy at election time”. “It is in the interest of the Hungarian government to keep migration and border protection on the agenda,” Zsolt Lázár, a defence and security expert said, adding: “It is an excellent domestic policy product to show that they can protect Hungarians”. Their view contradicts the view of activist Boko on the Serbian side who thinks that the “fence makes no sense”, explaining “If someone wants to cross it, they will. If someone has money, they will go with smugglers; if not, they will try alone.”

Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Hungary arbitrarily detained two children who applied for asylum in 2016. The two children, M.H. from Afghanistan and S.B. from Pakistan, who were represented by HHC, were unlawfully detained at the age of 16. M.H. reported that he was 20 years old in his first asylum interview because he feared that if he confessed to being a minor, he would be separated from his fellow travellers. In the second interview, he confessed that he was a minor and showed an Afghan document proving his real age. However, the authorities refused to have his age assessed by a medical expert and argued that he should cover the costs of an assessment (roughly €235) himself. S.B., a Pakistani national who entered Hungary with another child relative, was in a “terrible” mental state after the killing of his relatives including his father by extremists. During interrogation by Hungarian authorities, he was recorded as an adult. However, he indicated that he was minor at a later stage, but the authorities again refused to change his age and told him that he would have to cover the costs of an assessment. According to the ECtHR ruling, t the detention of the applicants became unjustified after the authorities became aware that they were presumably children. In a press release, HHC stated that this ruling would be a “legal benchmark on the detention of children that the Hungarian state cannot go against”. “The Government propaganda speaks loudly and often about ‘protecting children above all else’, but, as we can see here, the government often fails to comply even with domestic laws keeping children safe, especially when it comes to children in need of protection,” it added.

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