Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann took a hard stance against Hungary's alleged treatment of refugees fleeing countries like Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan in hopes of finding asylum in Europe. The Austrian chancellor likened Hungary's policy to Nazi deportation, when Jews were detained in camps and shipped across Europe without knowing where their final destination would be, according to NBC News. But just what is Hungary allegedly doing to treat refugees so poorly, and is the country's policy legal? According to refugees who have spoken with the media, Austria's claims aren't that outlandish.
Thousands of refugees who are fleeing war and persecution in their home countries are crossing the border to Hungary, where they then travel to Europe's west and north in what NBC News called the "worst refugee crisis since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s." Hungary has taken a hard stance against taking in refugees, building a 100-mile fence along its border with Serbia. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said the people entering Europe, even those who are fleeing war or persecution, are "immigrants," not refugees, if they want to travel through Hungary and onto Germany, according to Reuters.
On Sept. 3, refugees boarded a train in Budapest and were told that they were traveling to the border with Austria, but then the train was stopped 22 miles west of the capital in a town called Bicske, where Hungary has set up a camp for refugees seeking asylum, according to NBC News. In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel, Faymann compared this transportation and then forced detainment to Nazi treatment of Jews during the Holocaust:
Sticking refugees in trains and sending them somewhere completely different to where they think they're going reminds us of the darkest chapter of our continent's history.
Orbán dismissed Faymann's comments quickly, saying they were "utterly unworthy of a 21st century European leader." Unfortunately, refugees who have spoken to the media haven't described the Hungarian camp as welcoming. Because of Hungary's hostility toward both refugees and migrants — migrants are often seeking economic opportunities that aren't available in their much poorer home countries — most of the refugees arriving in Hungary have said they want to avoid being registered there because they are afraid of being returned to Hungary later after they travel to richer countries in western and northern Europe.
Saeed, a 25-year-old Syrian, was one of many refugees who complained about his treatment in Hungary. Saeed told Reuters he spent the last six days in Hungary, where he was taken to five different camps and had to sleep standing up in an overcrowded room:
They put us in jails. We were there for a week, so little food, one of these little breads in the morning and one at night ... Everyone has a cold because there is no heating or anything there. I escaped from Syria because I wasn't treated like a person, like a human being there and I came to Hungary and I was treated like an animal.
On Friday, video emerged of crowds jumping and clamoring to get food as Hungarian police threw them bags of sandwiches in a fenced-in enclosure inside a big hall, according to The Telegraph. The video was apparently shot secretly by an Austrian volunteer Wednesday in the Röszke camp, Hungary's main refugee camp on its border with Serbia. Police in Hungary have launched an investigation into the scenes, according to The Telegraph. Alexander Spritzendorfer, a member of Vienna's local government, told The Telegraph that the scene "was like animals being fed in a pen." His wife Michaela filmed the scenes, commenting:
It was inhumane and it really speaks for these people that they didn't fight over the food despite being clearly very hungry.
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said the footage showed a "detention center" where people spend a few hours in an "optimal case" but can often stay for up to two days as part of a procedure sanctioned by the European Union. In an email to The Telegraph, Kovacs characterized the refugees and migrants shown in the video as uncooperative rather than desperate for food:
I can see policemen who have been performing their duties for months, trying to take care of 23,000 migrants arriving continuously day by day while there is no cooperation whatsoever on their part. I can see they are trying to maintain order among those who are unable to line up for food.
Orbán said Saturday that once Hungary closes its borders on Sept. 15, all refugees should be sent back to "where they came from," and that choice for the country is apparently completely legal, according to Reuters:
These migrants are not coming to us from war zones but rather from camps in countries neighboring Syria like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. They were safe there.
It's unclear whether life in the camps Orbán was referring to is good or was meant to be permanent for the refugees, but the EU widely agrees that it is part of the United Nations refugee policy that those fleeing home countries that are wrought with war ought to be provided a better life in Europe. That is one thing Orbán seems determined to ignore.