Friday 20 January 2017

Hungary under fire on refugees as UN distances itself from EU-Turkey deal

Stephanie Nebehay

Published 24/03/2016 | 02:30

A girl takes part in a protest at the Greek border. Photo: AP
A girl takes part in a protest at the Greek border. Photo: AP

Human rights groups and refugee advocates say Hungary is unnecessarily holding hundreds of asylum seekers in detention and hindering the treatment and recovery of traumatised survivors of torture.

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Gabor Gyulai, head of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee's refugee programme, said yesterday that Hungary's practice of detaining asylum seekers is "not an exceptional measure, it is a widespread practice", which last year led, for example, to having more asylum seekers in prison-like conditions than in open reception centres.

A report presented jointly by the Helsinki Committee and the Cordelia Foundation, which offers psychiatric counselling to asylum seekers, found that legal safeguards for torture victims seeking asylum are ineffective, that the detention of torture victims or those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder fuels re-traumatisation and that there are no trained mental health workers in the detention centres.

Yesterday, refugees and migrants in Greece staged protests at the country's border with Macedonia and on islands near the Turkish coast. Several hundred protesters camped out at the border disrupted food distribution by charities, and demanded the border be reopened. Small protests have also occurred at detention camps on three Greek islands, where arrested migrants and refugees are waiting to be deported back to Turkey.

All refugees and migrants arriving in Greece are being arrested since Sunday, when the agreement between Turkey and the European Union (EU) took effect. Greek officials could not say when the deportations would start, with outstanding legal and practical issues still to be resolved.

On Tuesday the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, dealt a blow to EU efforts to stem the biggest humanitarian crisis in generations, saying it would no longer assist in the transfer of migrants and refugees arriving in Greece to "detention centres".

The EU reached a deal with Turkey just four days ago aimed at halting the flow of migrants across the sea to Greece, but the UNHCR said the deal was being prematurely implemented without the required safeguards in place.

It said migrants were being held against their will at reception facilities on several Greek islands, and it would not transport people there from the beaches and to and from ports. It will continue to provide other services including counselling to refugees, it said.

The accord crafted by EU leaders and Turkey specifically mentions the UNHCR's involvement, although UN officials in Geneva said they were not consulted on that.

The deal, which took effect on Sunday, is aimed at putting new arrivals in Greece who seek asylum on a fast track for processing. But it also means they are kept in detention until their claims are assessed.

"Under the new provisions, these so-called hotspots have now become detention centres," said the UNHCR's Melissa Fleming. "Accordingly, and in line with UNHCR policy of opposing mandatory detention, we have suspended some of our activities at all closed centres on the island."

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said it was pulling out of one centre on Lesbos "because the EU-Turkey deal is turning reception centres to deportation centres."

Irish Independent

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