According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Hungary has, since the beginning of the refugee crisis, changed its refugee law and policies, allowing the State to hold asylum seekers in detention centers, sometimes for weeks even, under poor conditions.
The European Commission initiated two infringement proceedings (September 23) and sent a formal letter to Hungary (October 3), the first step to infringement proceedings, because of its partial failure to implement the legislation of the ‘Common European Asylum System’. Hungary has been holding asylum seekers in detention, some of which are vulnerable (unaccompanied children, physically ill, pregnant women) and has adopted a strict deportation policy, mostly to Serbia, but also the countries from where the individuals have fled.
Since the beginning of the Syrian warfare, but also because of other tension causing situations in the Middle East, Turkey has continuously been controlling its Western borders for refugees who were let inside the country as asylum seekers, but were trying to cross the country and reach the European borders. In the summer of 2015, though the flow of migrants and asylum seekers has increased dramatically and as a result the state has not been able to keep the people from passing to Mediterranean countries in any way the can. Turkey has, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, created detention camps for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. The conditions inside those camps have been dire for the refugees and the asylum seekers, with few or non-existent access to education, housing and health-care, despite the resources being dedicated and the positive legal actions and policy changes being implement by the authorities. The detention of refugees itself, and the circumstances under which they are being denied their freedom, is a clear infringement of international and domestic Turkish law, for the following reasons.
i. It is considered arbitrary under international law (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, General Comment no. 35, Article 9 of the Human Rights Committee), since the article mandates that asylum seekers are to be detained only for a brief period of time and under conditions that do not jeopardize their health in any way, otherwise the detention is arbitrary and, therefore, unlawful. Most immigrants are held for several weeks to 2 - 3 months, until they are deported back to their countries, or until they find a route to Europe, which is unsafe and illegal. State officials also bare the obligation of informing the detainees of why they are being denied their liberty rights, an obligation not respected in the Turkish detention centers.
ii. The detainees are denied all communications, even with relatives and their lawyer. This, under international law (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, General Comment No. 35, Article 9 of the Human Rights Committee), as well as the domestic Turkish law [Law on Foreigners and International Protection Art. 59(1), 68 (8, b)], is considered illegal and is a clear violation of the refugees’ and asylum seekers’ human rights.
The Turkish state has also deported more than a 100 people back to their countries, where they are at real risk of serious human rights violations and undergo life threatening situations. That is a clear violation of international law, taking into account that they have the right to personal safety and to seek asylum from persecution or other violations of their fundamental rights (principle of non - refoulement).
The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been a passage for people seeking asylum in Central European countries, since the refugee crisis began, and was been accused of discrimination between asylum seekers, and unlawfully detaining irregular immigrants, on the basis of protecting witnesses in cases of criminal prosecutions for smuggling.
The state has been reportedly denying access to individual who could not verify they were from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, leaving them stranded in the borders with Greece. Many of those people tried to enter the country illegally were apprehended and detained in the Gazi Baba detention Center, under bad conditions, and were ill-treated according to reports from the Human Rights Watch.
In July 2015, after a series of interventions, the government temporarily stopped detaining refugees and allowed them to cross the country, but only until they changed their policy in November.
People in the detention center are being denied access to legal representation in order to challenge their detention and they are also denied their request to be informed about the basis of their detention, in other words, incommunicado detention, which is illegal. The state has also been holding many refugees on the basis of protecting them as witnesses for criminal proceedings against their alleged smugglers, even though no such right is given to them under domestic law. The detention is therefore arbitrary and illegal under international law.
The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both report that the conditions under which the refugees in those centers are held are inhuman. The detention center is overpopulated (capacity of 120-150 people, right now about 400 detainees), with the result of people having trouble of finding where to sleep, bad quality nutrition and ill-treatment by the center’s staff, including beating, gender and nationality discriminating treatment.
According to domestic law, refugees may be held for identity verification for no more than 12 hours, or after official approval, until their identity has been verified. Any further detention has no legal basis under domestic law.
Under international law all detainees have the right to be informed of why they are being denied their freedom, an obligation not respected in the Gazi Baba detention center. They can only be detained if they are considered suspects of committing an offence, or in view of deportation or extradition. Since deportation would be illegal in this case according to international law, because of the dangerous conditions in the detainees’ countries of origin, their detention has no legal basis.
In the latest years, Greece has been a European reception center for a lot of refugees and asylum seekers from Asian countries. In 2013, reports have recognized problems in the Eastern Greek borders with Turkey, basically because of the Greek government’s lack of organization and resources to properly receive, identify and institute the refugees, between their arrival and the completion of the necessary legal and administrative proceedings.
A lot of people seeking to pass the borders between Turkey and Greece have been pushed back at the border, even though international and EU law prohibits such policies. Also, the Greek government has been reportedly executing collective expulsions of immigrants, even though EU law prohibits state members from expulsions of people whose case has not been individually examined, since there is a risk of refoulement (deportation of an individual who is under great risk of undergoing violations of his fundamental human rights in his country of origin).
Even when not deported or pushed back, refugees were detained in detention centers under dire conditions and for long periods of time, because of the lack of administrative organization in order for their identification and asylum seeking procedures to move faster.
Also, a big part of the detainees have been reported to be unaccompanied children, who, under international law, can be detained only as a last resort measure. Those children were at times held with adults because of the lack of facilities to receive them and the lack of funding by the government, which reduced the (EU) funding of such existing facilities.
Until recently the Greek government has been receiving protest letters urging it to investigate police forces summarily conducting push backs and collective expulsions of refugees to the land borders with Turkey in Evros. There have also been reports from boat passengers trying to irregularly enter Greece, of unidentified individuals, taking the boats’ engines and even toeing the boats back towards Turkey or tearing rubber boats, risking the safety of the passengers.
This article was originally published in the tenth issue of the magazine, which can be accessed here.