On 17th of May 2014, a protest day against detention of asylum seekers took place at Debrecen, Hungary. Following report was written by a participant from Vienna, combined with some reflection about the significance of protest and resistance against detention policies in Hungary within the struggle against European border- and deportation regime.
Debrecen/Hungary: Protest against detention and its significance in the struggle against European border- and deportation regime
For several years, Hungarian asylum system has been unfamous for its practices of detaining refugees in closed prison camps or, on the other hand, throwing people on the street, without any place to stay. At Debrecen in the east of Hungary is located one of the biggest refugee camps in the country, with both open camp section and closed detention camp. Saturday, 17th of May 2014, Debrecen has been in the focus of bringing this systematic violation of freedom and basic human rights and also refugees' resistance against this system to public attention: Around 50 people living in the open section of the camp, together with a group of Hungarian and international activists who came by bus from Budapest, organised by the group Migszol (Migrants Solidarity Group), came together for a protest rally in front of the refugee camp. Major demands: Stop of detention of refugees in Hungary, but also an end to bad living conditions and abuses taking place in open camps, too. People from the refugee camp and visitors from outside held speeches and shouted slogans for freedom, interrupted by music and dancing. From the entrance area of the open camp, the demonstration moved to a point opposite the outside walls of the closed detention camp, so that people inside this prison could see and hear it. Many of the prisoners, in turn, shouted and waved from inside - a moment of solidarity as well as of feeling helpless against the physical power of barbed wires and prison walls. For many of the people living in the open asylum camp, the detention section is not an unknown place: They have been inside detention at Debrecen or other camps, often for months, after being arrested by Hungarian border guards, after being deported to Hungary from other EU-countries based on Dublin-rule, or as a form of intimidation and punishment by the authorities. It is said that people with supposedly bad chances in the asylum trial are more likely to be detained, but in general, the descision of who will be sent to a closed camp is a totally arbitrary one, working as a threat upon all asylum seekers in Hungary. Many of the refugee protesters had stories to tell about their sad and cruel experiences inside detention camps at Debrecen and other places, like Nyírbator or Békéscaba: Stories about being systematically beaten and maltreated by prison guards, some of them showing traces of injuries on their bodies. Or stories about people psychologically traumatised and broken iside detention. While many refugees at Debrecen have experienced Dublin deportation to Hungary, often from Austria or Germany, it also became evident that at the same time, many people fear being deported out of Hungary, especially to Bulgaria, based on Dublin rule, too. Several people pointed out that in Bulgaria, like in Hungary, it is common for Asylum seekers to be detained, while those who are "free" are left homeless on the streets, without any kind of accomodation or support from the Bulgarian state.
This short day of protest, a day of joyful coming together, of rising up for freedom, but also of sharing harmful and traumatising experiences, ended with cordial farewell and confident motivation among the participants that further steps of protest need to follow.
Detention and push back
In the beginning of 2013, the practice of detaining asylum seekers was limitted by modifications of Hungarian law, meaning that people applying for asylum immediately after being picked up by Hungarian border police, as well as people being deported to Hungary based on Dublin rule, should not be detained any more. Anyhow, detention as a common standard was reintroduced only on 1st of July 2013, introducing a form of detention that is legally different from deportation custody and allows Hungarian authorities to imprison asylum seekers up to 6 months. This new law, which concerns people who were arrested inside Hungarian borders as well as those deported there from other EU countries, offers very different justifications of detention: Among others "Verifying someone's identity", "suspicion of delaying the asylum procedure", "not fulfilling duties of asylum procedure" or generally "protection of public order and national security". In daily practices of Hungarian asylum system, this means that refugees in Hungary live with the permanent threat of being sent to a closed detention camp for any arbitrary excuse. Many times, people imprisoned in Hungarian detention centers have complained about extremely bad living conditions, insufficient food and medical treatment and violent abuses. Several times, refugees have responded against this detention system in collective acts of resistance: In August 2013, people started a hunger strike at Nyírbator detention center and in November 2013, a prison riot took place at Békéscaba. Due to inhumane living conditions and pressure from the authorities, many have chosen a so-called "voluntary" pushback to Serbia as the only exit option seemingly available to them. At the same time, forced deportation to Serbia, which is not part of the EU Dublin regulation, also seem to be common, like stated in a testimony by a participant of Békéscaba riot: "(...) During this period I had seen that they deported people who had been there for four months (from Pakistan, Algeria, and other countries). They [the wardens, the police] would just come, without informing them 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 asylum and they would just push us back to Serbia.(...)"
Countries at eastern periphery of EU serving as "prison camp" within Dublin-system
While it is an important challenge to struggle for the stop of Dublin deportations to Hungary because of the danger of detention, it also has to be pointed out that detention is not simply a specific failure of Hungarian asylum system. Closed detention camps in Hungary are set up and maintained with money from the EU and certain member states, like Germany. In this sense, an EU banner can be seen waving over the entrance doors of camps in Nyírbator, Debrecen and other places. Detaining asylum seekers is not something Hungarian state does against common EU human rights standards, but something it does to fulfil its role within EU migration regime. Deportations based on Dublin rule and the imprisonment of migrants and refugees in detention centers are corresponding parts of the system of repression against the free movement of people. With the breakdown of Greek asylum system, which has forced the EU member states to stop Dublin deportations to Greece, other countries at the periphery of the EU are more and more in the position to replace the role of Greece as buffer states. And Hungary is not the only state whose institutions actively try to fulfil this role: Bulgarian state, for example, also has become unfamous for the detention of asylum seekers and transit migrants. Even in Hungary, with all the atrocities of its own asylum system, refugees talk about their fear of getting Dublin deportation to Bulgaria. This is not only because of the threat of detention, but also because of the total lack of accomodation and basic vital support for those people who are not detained and because of frequent racist attacks. And even in those states which are no EU members yet, steps are made to get more actively involved in the repressive European border regime. Serbian authorities, according to observations by activists living there, are presently preparing to introduce systematic detention of refugees and "irregular" migrants, too. Detention, push backs and other forms of movement restriction, with all its cruel consequences for the lives of people, are, to a large extent, caused by the policy of rich central EU countries like Germany and Austria. These states, until now, have been the most active ones to implement and to extend the Dublin - by now Dublin III - system in Europe, aiming to keep "unwanted" people outside their own borders at any price. At the same time, this interest corresponds to the racist anti-refugee/anti-migrant agenda of right wing and fascist groups and parties who have become increasingly powerful in Hungary, but also in other countries. Globally, the extension of detention push backs and generally repressive migration control in the countries of eastern Europe and the Balkans is also due to their geographic position as transit countries into the EU for people fleeing from the war zones in Asia and Africa as well as for others searching for a better life. And, not least, from eastern and southeastern Europe itself, people who are facing economic crisis, poverty and racist persecution are setting out towards richer western EU countries. With the latest escalation of the horrors of war in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and other parts of the world, one of the major concerns for European bureaucrats and mainstream media is how to "handle" and control the expected rise of the numbers of refugees. Media in Austria or Germany are full of "alarming" reports about allegedly "exploding" numbers of Asylum seekers - numbers in fact ridiculously small compared to people who are blocked in refugee camps in Africa or Asia -, while the EU members' role in plundering resources, supporting oppressive regimes and inflicting wars keeps being ignored. In this context, detention, pushbacks and (Dublin) deportations along the flight- and migration routes through eastern Europe are tools of the same ruthless asylum- and migration control regime implemented by the member states of the EU that kills people in the Mediterranean- and Agean sea and in the deserts of northern Africa. Thus, delegitimating, undermining and saboting these tools of repression is a fight for freedom of movement that can contribute to remove barriers for people's possibilities to save their lives and to claim access to the resources that are denied for them in a capitalist world system.
Marginal position of refugee solidarity protests in the context of rising nationalism and fascism
On the day of anti detention protest in Debrecen, local Jobbik fascists, one of them a deputy at Hungarian parliament, held a counter rally to intimidate the refugee solidarity action and, as they said, to "support the Hungarian government" and "protect the local population". Although no physical confrontations happened, this incident is typical for the marginal position of refugee- and migrant solidarity in Hungarian society: No person from Debrecen who is not an inhabitant of the refugee camp showed her solidarity. The only ones presently supporting refugees' demands for freedom and basic rights seem to be some activist- and NGO groups mostly from Budapest, while Jobbik, with their fascist and often violent racist ideology, have become one of the most powerful political parties in Hungary. This, too, is not an exclusively Hungarian problem, but fits into the rise of fascist and other rightwing and racist groups almost everywhere in Europe.
Debrecen protest as a step for new cooperations and visibility of struggles
The demonstration in Debrecen on 17th of May has not been the only and not the first example of asylum seekers protesting against detention and social exclusion in Hungarian refugee camps. Riots and hunger strikes have take place at Bekescaba and Nyirbator. Of a new quality was, on the one hand, the cooperation between inhabitants of a refugee camp raising their voice and supporting groups from outside and, on the other hand, the high attention and visibility in Hungarian media. In this sense, for refugee activists as well as for the Migszol group, the Debrecen protest day was a big success, though it was clear to the organisers that substantial changes of inhumane living conditions are not likely to happen quickly. Future will show in how far refugees struggling against detention and deportation system and supporting groups will be able to build up a broader and more continuous protest movement and in how far they will have the power to resist against repression and intimidation by Hungarian authorities and racist groups. According to a report of Migszol, who visited Debrecen some weeks after the public demonstration, refugees continue to struggle against desperate living conditions, often using their bodies as the only tool available: there were people who went on hunger strike or sewed their mouth, in most cases far from any media attention. Internationally, the protest against detention system in Hungary is a highly important point of reference in the struggle against deportation through Dublin rule. In the case of Greece, Dublin deportations have already been suspended due to the all too obvious inhumane conditions of Greek asylum system, but only after visible scandalisation through protests, revolts, media reports and exemplary juridical cases. Also for Hungary, Bulgaria and other "target countries" of Dublin deportations, there have been successful individual court cases of people who claimed their right to stay in another EU country. But still, authorities and courts in Austria, Germany etc. strictly refuse a general suspension of Dublin deportations, as this would put their strategies of refusing entry to refugees at stake. Achieving this would be a strategic goal in the struggle for freedom of movement in Europe. In Hungary and elsewhere, active refugees and migrants are the ones who are in the most exposed, most risky position within this struggle. It's a challenge to participate in breaking isolation to make it successful.
More insight and background information:
Blog of Migszol group/Budapest :: migszol.com/blog
No Border Serbia :: noborderserbia.wordpress.com
This article was published first on 05. Jul 2014 @ :: noborderserbia.wordpress.com.