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September 2015

Hungary takes refugee children away from parents as it declares state of emergency

Plans to extend 175 km razor wire border fence with Serbia eastwards towards Romania

David Kearns

PUBLISHED15/09/2015 | 15:42

  • 16COMMENTS
An Afghan refugee woman holding her daughter in a camp in southern Hungary2
An Afghan refugee woman holding her daughter in a camp in southern Hungary

Hungary is to split up families found illegally crossing its borders following state of emergency declarations in two of its southern counties.

 

Any minor found without the correct documents will be taken from their parents and placed in “children’s institutions”.

Meanwhile the parents will be put in one of two holding areas called “transit zones” while they await trial for illegally crossing the border – a crime now punishable with a prison sentence.

 

The new law came into effect at midnight on Monday as authorities sealed a railway crossing point that had been used by tens of thousands of migrants.

Hundreds of migrants are thought to be stranded at the Serbia-Hungary border after the Hungarian government closed the frontier with a new razor-wire fence.

On Monday night, Hungarian military trucks cleared the makeshift refugee camp near the village of Roszke, as part of the government’s effort to tighten up border controls.

Figures showed that a record 7,437 people entered Hungary from Serbia on Monday.

Migrants stand in front of a barrier at the border with Hungary near the village of Horgos, Serbia Credit: Marko Djurica (REUTERS)2
Migrants stand in front of a barrier at the border with Hungary near the village of Horgos, Serbia Credit: Marko Djurica (REUTERS)

Hungary’s government has also started work on extending its 175 km border fence with Serbia eastwards towards Romania, in case migrants start taking other routes into its territory, its foreign minister said on Tuesday.

“We have made the decision to start preparatory works for the construction of a fence starting from the Hungarian-Serbian-Romanian border at a reasonable length should migration pressure shift in the direction of Romania,” said Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.

The Government announced the plans as it said its two southern counties bordering Serbia were now officially in a state of emergency due to the sheer number of refugees entering the country.

The state of emergency gives police extra powers and would allow troop to be deployed if the country’s parliament approves.

The declarations give police the power to search homes without a warrant if they suspect migrants may be hiding there.

Also, courts will now be forced to prioritise cases involving people caught entering Hungary illegally as border crossing

Police said they had arrested 60 people accused of trying to breach a razor-wire fence on the border with Serbia

Read More: Merkel ‘does not want to solve migration crisis with threats’

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said this morning his Government had been forced to officially declare a state of emergency in the face of his “nation being engulfed”.

A government spokesman said: “It’s the fundamental interest of everyone to put an end to the illegal immigration process.

“It is possible migrants will accumulate on the Serbian side of the border.

“Every single country where the migrants are crossing should take its part in the joint European efforts, including Serbia.”

Read More: ‘My gut says 1 in 50 Syrian refugees in Europe could be ISIS’ – Lebanese minister warns

Starting Tuesday, Hungary will start implementing tougher border measures that may see those who cross Hungary’s border illegally arrested.

On Monday night, Hungarian military trucks cleared the makeshift refugee camp near the village of Roszke, as part of the government’s effort to tighten up border controls.

Figures showed that a record 7,437 people entered Hungary from Serbia on Monday.

Read More: Twenty-two migrants drown as boat capsizes in Aegean Sea

Many of the refugees, who have been fleeing war zones including Syria, have been heading west to Germany, which said it expected a million migrants to enter the country this year – 200,000 more than previous estimates.

Over the weekend, Germany tightened controls along its border with Austria creating traffic jams at major crossings.

The European Commission confirmed on Tuesday it had received a notification from Austrian authorities of their intention to temporarily reintroduce border controls with Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The commission said Austria’s move, like that of Germany, was in keeping with the provisions of the Schengen agreement.

“The temporary reintroduction of border controls between Member States is an exceptional possibility explicitly foreseen in and regulated by the Schengen Borders Code, in case of a crisis situation.

“The current situation in Austria, prima facie, appears to be a situation covered by the rules,” the Commission said.

The White House said Tuesday evening that it is up to European nations to determine the best way to deal with the flood of refugees fleeing violence in Syria, and said the United States remains committed to taking more refugees to help.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest did not directly comment on whether the United States supports mandatory quotas for refugees in Europe, saying it was up to countries to work together to find solutions.

Online Editors

Rime Allaf from Vienna

Having spent the greater part of the last couple of days at Westbahnhof, and at the border at Nickelsdorf on Sunday, I hesitate when I claim emotional tiredness after having heard Syrian refugees’ stories about their long road to Vienna and seen the state they were in. What they have lived is incredible, and painful to hear. Every person and every family stays with you, and you find yourself wondering how much more they will endure, and how many more will follow in their path.

This week was better organized overall, and the many Austrian volunteers, donors and helpers who continue to show such solidarity and compassion are truly a shining example of the power of civil society, especially when coordinated with and facilitated by authorities. Metal barriers have been brought in to organize arrivals and departures, and Platform 1 has become the transit area. In the midst of the main arrival hall, a new makeshift area for children to rest, snack and play amid a pile of plush toys has been set up and the scenes are heartwarming.

The Caritas operation nerve center has begun to issue badges for volunteers, listing spoken languages. This enables paramedics and police to call for help easily, especially when the inevitable rush happens as long awaited trains to Munich are about to leave, and volunteers are asked to explain the process – and to calm rising tensions amongst exhausted people. There have been slight scuffles and complaints about people cutting the long lines and positioning themselves in front; police and volunteers always try to bring families with young children to the front, but young men travelling alone are faster and less patient, especially when their journey has begun way beyond Syria.

Arrivals to the station can also be chaotic; most refugees are now mostly being brought in by buses from the border (yesterday alone there were 50 buses and 2,500 refugees, and many had not arrived by the time I left), and they are often unsure about what will happen next to them. Cordons of police officers line the platform, and volunteers guide them to the area where food and drinks – and another long waiting period – await them. Yesterday, a lovely choir of some 20 adults moved along the platform singing inspirational songs to bemused refugees. And when Austrian President Heinz Fischer made an unannounced visit as well, thanking officials and volunteers and chatting with some refugees, I can say with great confidence that at least 99% of them had no idea who he was.

The badges also encouraged incoming refugees to ask for help. While most Syrians I met were hoping to start a new life in Germany, many are desperate to know the rules and logistics of asylum requests in different countries, asking a myriad of questions which we simply could not answer, to their frustration. It would be so helpful if relevant NGOs could establish a reliable information base, allowing refugees to understand legal positions across the EU. Refugees arriving here are welcomed with huge posters from the City of Vienna telling them “You are safe” in English and in Arabic, and volunteers continue to explain that they will be taken by train to Munich for free, should they wish to continue beyond Austria.

I happened to spend quite some time taking newly arrived people to the Ambulatorium and translating for the paramedics, whose professionalism and kindness with refugees is to be saluted. At Nickelsdorf on Sunday, we were lucky to have an extended conversation with the official spokesperson of the Austrian police force, who told us of many cases of exhaustion, of extended walking and falling (and worse) related bruising and aches, but also of dehydration and lack of nutrition (that day alone, for instance, 7 small children had to be hospitalized because of severe dehydration), and Austrian medics at the border have been taking care of the most urgent cases.

Vienna doctors were busy too. The situation in Macedonia and especially Hungary has gotten much worse over the last week, the effect evident on the faces of many. On Thursday, l was led to a small Syrian boy who had headaches and had been feverish for several days. I touched his forehead and went straight into the anxiety mode most mothers feel when a child is that hot. After l accompanied little Ahmad and his mother Nour to a doctor, she wept on my shoulder as she recounted their ordeal from Bab Al Hawa to Vienna – from Assad’s bombs to a camp in Turkey, to a terrifying sea crossing, to the long journey through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and finally through Hungary. And that is when Nour cried.

If there is one common denominator to the conversations I have had with Syrians refugees this week, and I am sure this is the case with most volunteers, it is their shock at the surreal violent and degrading treatment they received in Hungary. Most thought we didn’t know, that this was not being reported in the media, and they were shaken to their core and bursting to tell those who would listen. I took a young woman limping on one crutch to the paramedics; she had been pushed to the ground in Hungary and seemed to be in great pain. Dima, however, categorically refused to let the Viennese doctor touch her swollen leg (to his shock), traumatized by the Hungarian nurses and doctors who handled roughly and rudely. After she shared some shocking details with me (including bruises on her arms after they woke her up by pinching her), I asked her father to convince her that she was in good hands here and that I would be by her side the whole time; he was in his late sixties and trembled with indignation as he gave me details of “what they did to us in Hungary” – a sentence I heard repeatedly. Dima looked for me half an hour later, still in pain and still traumatized, and told me her father was now crying. After holding back for so long, he was finally able to break down, in the safety of Vienna.

He was not the only grown man crying. On one side of the platform, a Syrian man tried unsuccessfully to control his tears as he told us how he was separated from his wife and children as they were led into buses. This refugee had no phone and could only wait, and save for a few comforting words, I could only think of our own impotence in the face of a catastrophe of this magnitude. How many Syrians will be looking for family members across the world in the years to come, just as people, Jews in particular, did for years after WWII?

While despair was palpable in many refugees, so was a definite sense of determination in most. Two young couples (from Aleppo and from Hama) chatted with me about their plans in Germany. One man was a mechanical engineer, the other a graphic designer, and as their pregnant wives sat by a pillar resting their aching backs, both told me they couldn’t wait to settle down, learn German and start anew. In a world where there are inevitably haves and have-nots, they were clearly of the former, turned into the latter when barrel bombs pushed them into exile with a only small bag to their name. Likewise, a grandmother from Deraa tearfully explained her family had no choice but to flee the barrel bombs (“al barameel”), worried that one of her disappeared sons would not be able to find them. Her young grandson listened to us chatting as he munched on some peanuts handed out by volunteers; I told him that he looked like a very bright boy who would learn German quickly and do very well in school; he nodded smilingly and, as any Syrian would, offered me some of his peanuts.

Each refugee is a story of hardship, of tragedy, of a desperate attempt for safety and dignity and of hope that the next generation would at least have a chance for a normal life. The one who will stay with me forever is Loujeyn, a little 8-year old Syrian girl from Damascus whose little bag sank into the sea during a storm, taking with it the few possessions she had chosen. She had been in the same clothes for weeks, and was given some old sneakers when her wet ones finally gave out. She was sneezing, was clearly exhausted, and incredibly sweet as she patiently waited to go on to Germany while her mother Salwa recounted their journey to me; still outraged about what was done to them Hungary, she told me it had been the first time since they left Damascus that she had nearly regretted leaving.

I felt an immediate attachment to them, perhaps because Loujeyn was nearly my own daughter’s age, and perhaps because Salwa was a fellow Damascene with a shared environment and roots, and I arranged to have some clean clothes and a Barbie doll brought to her later that day and to Loujeyn’s priceless smile. As I prepared to leave them, Salwa reached into her handbag and tried to give me the one “luxury” item still with her: a small bag of Arabic coffee, carefully wrapped in plastic. She was pained when I refused, insisting “please, it’s from Syria.” I told her it would make me much happier to know she will drink it when she has a roof over her head, safe from the Air Force Intelligence unit which had taken her older son and prompted the family to flee when they got him out, and that one day I would accept her hospitality in Germany.

As I left the station, my badge already removed, I suddenly noticed many more people than usual begging. A young woman who appeared to be Gypsy approached me; out of habit after talking to so many refugees in the last week, I asked her where she was from as I reached into my purse. She replied: Syria. I was stunned for a second and furiously told her: No you’re not! Ask for money but do not pretend to be a Syrian refugee.

I make no apology for being protective of the people who have shown so much dignity throughout their ordeal, and who have endured every calamity as most of the world watched in silence. That others should exploit their plight adds insult to injury and distorts the reality, and we have gone from having to explain where Syria is, to having our mostly useless passports stolen, our identities borrowed and our tragedy abused. And yet, even in their time of need, Syrians’ generosity – and generosity of spirit – remained legendary.

It took a flood of refugees and dozens of encounters with my Syrian compatriots in the most unexpected of circumstances, here where they saw real solidarity and compassion for the first time in weeks, but I am beginning to think that the cliche just may be right: Vienna really is the heart of Europe.

This extended Syrian family made it to Hungary: ‘What happens next?’

IMG_12871441828871 (1)

Ari Kiro, center, leads his family through the border into Roszke, Hungary. Kiro was elected to lead a group of 42 family members, friends and neighbors from Alepo that included boat, bus, train and walking. (Robert Samuels/TWP)
By Robert Samuels September 9
ROSZKE, HUNGARY — Down the rusty train tracks littered with crushed water bottles and candy bar wrappers, a mass of red and orange hats emerged from the distance. Ari Kiro, dressed in a sleeveless green T-shirt and white sweatpants, marched in the shallow grass beside them, a whistle in his mouth. He blew. They all stopped.

Kiro counted the children: 11. He counted the adults: 34. Forty-five in all — extended family and some new friends — marching together to seek asylum from the war in Syria.

Their past was another land, but they had no idea where their future would be. What they had known, back in Syria — in Aleppo, where most of them were from — was that colder weather and choppier waters were coming, and that the Hungarian prime minister was seeking to seal off this border with Serbia as early as Sept. 15. Not quite two weeks ago, they made a decision thousands in the Middle East are making, to run for the border, while it is still possible.

The family elected Kiro, a masseur, to lead the way. They picked up their new friends in Turkey.

“We thought it would be easier if we all worked together,” said Mohamed Ismael, 30, a pharmacist. “Macedonia was the hardest. Two days without food and water. We had to walk in the dark.”

Migrants’ desperate quest to cross into Europe
View Photos More than 332,000 people have reached Europe this year. see full article here

just arms dealers

Posted 21 hours ago by in news
(Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

DSEI is coming to London’s ExCeL arena and is bringing with it 30,000 attendees to inspect the wares of 1,500 arms dealers.

The capital will, overnight, become the focal point of the global arms trade, an exhibition which in 2013 attracted guests from such countries as Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam – all listed as human rights priority countries by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

A petition has been set up by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and Global Justice Nowto be presented to Prime Minister David Cameron, calling for the arms fair to be shut down as it brings “military buyers from countries propagating war and repressing their populations, together with the weapons manufacturers who fuel conflict and insecurity”.

At present, the petition has 10,000 signatures. It states:

David Cameron has said Britain will fulfil its ‘moral responsibilities’ to refugees and that he ‘wants peace in the Middle East’.

Let’s tell him to put his words into action and shut down the arms fair. The UK should be making #refugeeswelcome, not arms dealers. #stopDSEI.

Null

Earlier this week, Cameron announced that Britain will take 20,000 refugees over five years, having previously stood in front of an empty field and said that “taking more and more refugees” was not the answer.

The message seems fairly clear – you’re more welcome in this country if we think you’ll buy our weapons.

Speaking to i100.co.uk, Andrew Smith of CAAT said:

DSEI brings some of the most repressive regimes in the world together with some of the biggest arms companies. The government is turning away refugees fleeing from some of the worst war zones at the same time as it is welcoming arms dealers from around the world to an event that will fuel more war and conflict.


More: The world’s 10 biggest arms exporters and importers

source

 

Hungary: Abysmal Conditions in Border Detention

 

(Budapest) – Migrants and asylum seekers are being held in abysmal conditions in the two Roszke migrant detention centers on the Serbian border, Human Rights Watch said today after obtaining footage from inside the camp and interviewing persons currently and formerly detained there. Hungarian police intercept asylum seekers and migrants entering via Serbia and detain them for days for registration and processing in conditions that fall short of Hungary’s international obligations.

Asylum seekers behind a metal fence in the ‘Hangar 1’ detention center, in Röszke, Hungary.

Asylum seekers behind a metal fence in the ‘Hangar 1’ detention center, in Röszke, Hungary.

 © 2015 Private/Courtesy of Human Rights Watch

“The detainees at Roszke are held in filthy, overcrowded conditions, hungry, and lacking medical care,” said Peter Bouckaert, Emergencies Director at Human Rights Watch. “The Hungarian authorities have an obligation to ensure that migrants and asylum seekers are held in humane conditions and that their rights are respected.”

Hungarian authorities should take urgent action to improve conditions in and around the Roszke detention centers and make sure that people have access to adequate food and water, shelter and medical care, Human Rights Watch said.

Although, UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, was recently granted access to Roszke, Hungarian authorities have not given permission to journalists or human rights organizations to visit the two police-run detention centers at the Roszke border between Serbia and Hungary, known as Hangar 1 and Hangar 2. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) has access under a long-standing tripartite border monitoring agreement between HHC, UNHCR and the Hungarian police. The agreement, however, only allows HHC access maximum once a month to police run centers on the border and limits what the organization can publicly say.

The detainees at Roszke are held in filthy, overcrowded conditions, hungry, and lacking medical care. The Hungarian authorities have an obligation to ensure that migrants and asylum seekers are held in humane conditions and that their rights are respected. 

Peter Bouckaert

Emergencies Director

Human Rights Watch had made a formal request to visit Roszke collection center on August 31, which was rejected by the National Police in Hungary on September 2, citing “interference with police procedures.” Public access is allowed to the “collection ground” – an outdoor area approximately 500 meters from the border where police gather asylum seekers and migrants before transporting them to the Roszke centers. Human Rights Watch was able to obtain footage from Hangar 1 and interviewed 24 asylum seekers from various countries of origin including Syria and Afghanistan currently or formerly detained at the centers.

Inside Hangar 1 and Hangar 2, detainees are kept in small clusters of tents in open air pens created by metal fences, often in overcrowded conditions with insufficient bedding and space for the numbers of persons detained in the pens. Interviews with people held there established that they are given little or no information about the legal rules and safeguards governing their detention and administrative procedures followed by the Hungarian authorities. No interpreters are on permanent stand-by at the facilities, which contributes to the serious communication problems and resulting anxiety and frustration among the migrants and asylum seekers held there.

Many of those interviewed appear to have been held beyond the 36 hour limit allowed by Hungarian law for detention for police registration purposes at the border, and said they had virtually no access to medical care in detention. All of those interviewed said they received barely any edible food, and were not informed whether the food was halal – that is, suitable for Muslims to eat. Drinking water in the camps is in short supply, and many said they had resorted to drinking the unclean water provided for washing.

People described instances in which detainees experienced heart attacks, insulin shock or seizures, and that newborns with serious fevers and vomiting received no medical assistance.

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Interactive Photo Feature: Thousands of asylum-seekers, including many from war-torn Syria, arrive daily in Hungary, seeking a path to Germany and other Western European countries. Hungary has detained and at times refused to allow people to continue onwards to Western Europe, citing an EU regulation. As a result, thousands have been stranded at Budapest’s Keleti train station. Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed scores. Here are their stories. >>

“I begged them for milk for the baby and they just told me to leave,” said a man held with his wife and baby in Roszke. “We needed clean water for the baby and the other children [of other families] but police said to use the dirty water.”

The conditions at the Roszke facilities indicate that the Hungarian authorities, including the border police, lack the capacity to detain, house, and feed the growing numbers of asylum seekers and migrants in a humane manner, Human Rights Watch said. Without greater international assistance to ensure that Hungary meets basic minimum detention practices, in line with its EU obligations, migrants and asylum seekers in Hungary are likely to continue to be held at the border in dismal conditions.Hungary is facing an influx of migrants and asylum seekers, with nearly 150,000 arrivals since the beginning of 2015 and up to 3,000 migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Hungarian border with Serbia every day in the past week. The number of asylum applications doubled in 2014, putting Hungary second – behind Sweden – for asylum applications per capita among EU countries. But the large numbers do not absolve Hungary of its legal responsibilities, including under the EU reception directive, to treat asylum seekers humanely, including where necessary by requesting assistance from international agencies or the EU, Human Rights Watch said.

Since the beginning of the year, the Hungarian government has engaged in an anti-immigrant campaign including a so-called national consultation, which included a questionnaire to eight million of its citizens that equated immigration with terrorism. In June, the government opened a nationwide billboard campaign with messages in Hungarian saying, “If you come to Hungary, you shouldn’t take the jobs of Hungarians,” and “If you come to Hungary, you must respect our culture.” Prime Minister Viktor Orban recently claimed he was defending “Europe’s Christian culture” from Muslims to justify his policies toward migrants and asylum seekers.

The Hungarian authorities should urgently request assistance from the United Nations and humanitarian nongovernmental organizations to better meet the needs of detained migrants and asylum seekers, and streamline the procedures they use to register asylum seekers and migrants to shorten their time in border detention, Human Rights Watch said. Facilities should be set up to meet international standards, and adequate interpreters and skilled medical personnel should promptly be deployed to the centers.

“The situation for migrants and asylum seekers in Hungary is inhumane and untenable,” Bouckaert said. “The Hungarian government, with help from fellow EU governments and the United Nations, should take concerted action to ensure it can meet its obligations to protect people and treat them humanely.”

Lack of Medical Care
The mothers of two newborn babies at the camp, both less than one month old, said that the infants had high fevers and were vomiting, but had received no medical assistance.

A young woman went into seizures after standing in the hot sun for hours in a metal pen filled with detained asylum seekers at the camp, according to witnesses and video obtained by Human Rights Watch.

A Syrian woman who gave birth at Keleti train station in Budapest two days after her release from detention, told Human Rights Watch of appalling conditions at the Debrecen asylum detention center, close to the Romanian border. She said she was kept there for three days separated from her husband in a dirty barred cell with 50 other women and children and without adequate food. Human Rights Watch did not interview others held at Debrecen and has not tried to gain access to the center.

The wife of a 57-year old man who had a heart attack at a detention facility said that he was treated with cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillators to revive him and then rushed to the hospital. But three days later, she had not been told whether he had survived.

Filthy Conditions
Elian Ahmed and her husband, Rawan Ati, both 23, spent a total of five days in at least two centers on the Hungarian border with their newborn baby. Rawan Ati described the conditions at Roszke:

When we crossed into Hungary the police sent us to a camp that was very dirty, like a place for animals. It was a closed camp and the conditions were horrible. When people tried to escape they were brought back. We slept for two days outside on towels. Nobody made special arrangements for the baby, they gave us no milk and they treated us very badly. They talked to us rudely, and they treated us very inhumanely, like we were slaves.

I begged them for milk for the baby and they just told me to leave [leave the police officer alone] in a very rude way. I tried to reason with them, saying I have a family that needs help and the policeman that he too has a family so what is the problem. We felt like prisoners and the food was so bad that we couldn’t eat it. The water was dirty and barely drinkable. We needed clean water for the baby and the other children [of other families] but police said to use the dirty water.

The family spent one night locked inside a police detainee transfer vehicle with a large group:

They told us to go to sleep at midnight and at 2 a.m. they would wake us up and move us to another camp with buses. Those five days we were not allowed to wash. Luckily we had some diapers left for the baby that we brought from Turkey. When we were taken to be fingerprinted, they locked us into a police transfer vehicle for prisoners with bars on the windows and they kept us there all night. There were about 100 people inside. Finally one woman got angry and demanded water. They gave us only one bottle of water. We spent the whole night locked into vehicle with our baby. It smelled terrible and we were all very dirty. There were about 10 children among us.

Another Syrian, Remis Shekal, 30, travelling with six children to reach her husband in Norway, said they were detained at two centers, including Roszke, for a total of four days. She described similarly bad conditions in Roszke saying that the place is “only fit for animals” and that no one explained what would happen to them or whether the food was halal. When the family refused to be fingerprinted out of fear that they would have to remain in Hungary under the Dublin regulation, which requires most asylum seekers to remain in the first EU country they entered, the police would wake them up during the night as a punishment, demanding that they go for fingerprinting.

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In a second camp, which she couldn’t name, she said they were locked in a room with about 70 people and only five beds. They tried to accommodate the children among them by putting camping mattresses on the floor. After two days of detention, they were told that following fingerprinting and photographing they were free to go and were put on a train to Budapest. After agreeing to be fingerprinted and photographed they were released and went on their own accord to Budapest.On three separate visits to the Serbian side of the Serbian-Hungary border, Human Rights Watch found dozens, and at times hundreds, of persons too afraid to cross into Hungary because of the detention conditions and fingerprinting practices of the Hungarian government, fearing that they would be forced to remain in a hostile Hungary. Two families of 15, including a total of six children, told Human Rights Watch that they were sheltering on the Serbian side of the border because they were too afraid to cross the border from Serbia because of camp conditions and concerns about being forcibly fingerprinted in Hungary. They had spent three days camping out in a fruit orchard at the border. Almost all the Syrian families interviewed described their time in Roszke camp as their worst experience since arriving in Europe, and second only to the dangers of crossing by boat from Turkey to Greece.

Meanwhile, thousands of asylum seekers and migrants remain stuck at two train stations in Budapest, sleeping out in the open on the pavement without any visible humanitarian assistance from the Hungarian government. Asylum seekers and migrants normally arrive in one station, Nyugati, and subsequently make their way to Keleti train station, which has destinations to Western Europe. The Hungarian government in the first week of September prevented asylum seekers and migrants from boarding trains to Western Europe, the preferred destination for most, citing its obligations under EU regulations. It has since stopped this practice.

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Refugees in Hungary complain about poor conditions

Refugee camp Röszke in Hungary

Michaela Spritzendorfer-Ehrenhause was together with Klaus Kufner and Ilse Lahofer in the night of the 9. sebtember in the Refugee camp Röszke 1, to bring relief supplies. She brought home shocking pictures and photographs. 
The variety of impressions about Roszke 1 reach from a female journaliste who made a refugee trip ,the use of pepperspray by authorities and to these pictures. The people who made it into these halls are already priviledged in comparsion to those that have to sleep in tents or outdoor. Food distribution about 8p.m. in the hungarian refugee camp at the serbian-hungarian boarder. About 300 people tried try to catch sandwiches and waterbottles in plastic bags which are thrown in the crowd by the policemen wearing face masks. Women place their children on the fences hoping that they will get their food handed directly to them or sitting with their children on the dirty mats and waiting for someone to bring them a ration. There are no medical supplies. Two paramedics from the hungarian red cross sitting in an empty room on the first floor waiting for emergencys. They are not allowed to give any information about the camp to the journalists. The ambulance can be called in for emergency cases. In the emergency room there is only a little round table with three chairs and blankets. There are band-aids, two kitchen rolls and a stethoscope. On the wall there are one and a half packages of toilet paper and some diper packs. Some poeple try to get in contact by holding up passports or signs with telephone numbers and names of their missed relatifs (a father is looking for his 14 year old son who got taken away by the police) in Kamera hoping that the world doesn´t look away and helps him. The camp exists since about three years, since the beginning of july the flow of refugees has strongly increased. Only within 3 months the camp couldn´t organise the food distribution anymore and coulnt keep it on a fair and human level.

The refugees welcome in Vienna

Today was an emotionally charged day for many Syrians and friends of Syrians in Vienna. When we heard that trains were running from Nickelsdorf (on the border with Hungary) to Vienna, those of us who could went straight to Westbahnhof to help welcome mostly Syrian refugees and to assist them in this stage of their epic journey. It was crowded, it was chaotic at times and it was overwhelming.

As they came off the trains, exhausted refugees would be met by dozens of volunteers offering drinks, food, medical help, and general assistance. We wore signs on our chest listing the languages we spoke, and we directed them as best as we could. For all the goodwill of all involved, it was difficult to know which trains would be the next to leave, and where to direct those continuing to Germany (the vast majority).

Platform 1 was entirely occupied by trolleys overflowing with food, drinks and hygiene items, with blankets, with clothes. Medical staff was on standby in a dedicated area clearly marked for all to see, in Arabic as well. On another side, some volunteers offered sim cards while others gathered cash donations for those who were continuing their journey beyond Munich. All travellers to Munich travelled for free, courtesy of the Austrian National Railways. Inside the arrival hall, multiple outlets were available for people to charge their phones, and signs in Arabic explained that free WiFi was available.

Amidst all the chaos was great dignity. The dignity of the refugees, who smiled when we said “alhamdella alsalameh” and who often politely refused to accept offered food, merely asking to be directed to the trains to Munich. The dignity of the children, who when handed chocolate bars and urged to take another would say no thank you, one is enough. The dignity of the volunteers, who seemed to instinctively know when to circulate, when to initiate contact, and when to stand on the side with trays of warm drinks, small things to eat and even cigarettes.

The generosity of the Austrian people and of the Austrian authorities was incredible; Caritas couldn’t accept more donations of clothes, shoes and toys for today. The kindness and calm shown by the police force was stunning; at one point, as a departure to Munich was announced, the platform became so crowded that a couple of employees were pushed and fell (on their feet) on the tracks. Yet, police remained calm and managed to restore order without force or roughness.

It was cold, windy and rainy in Vienna today, but to those fleeing war, misery and genocide, and especially after the stupefyingly harsh treatment they received from Hungarian authorities, Mother Nature was no match for the warmth of Austria’s welcome.

Tomorrow, Nickelsdorf.

Photo de Rime Allaf.
Photo de Rime Allaf.
Photo de Rime Allaf.

Can the last person out of Syria please turn off the lights?

Thursday, September 03, 2015

It took a dead baby for the world to notice. Wait, I thought it took seventy refugees suffocating in a refrigerator with wheels for the world to notice? Or was it the pictures of babies floating face down in the water that did it? I thought we were at the tipping point when chemical weapons were dropped on the Damascus Ghouta in 2013, and politicians in the Western world wobbled their lower lips as they made their speeches denouncing Assad and calling for accountability. I don’t buy it, and I’m not getting swept away with the optimism and emotion. A few thousand refugees let in through the net aren’t going to fix this problem or make it go away. The refugee problem is mainly a Syrian refugee problem, and it stems from a dictator who continues to use barrel bomb attacks to depopulate towns and villages. Syrians aren’t fleeing because of Jabhat al Nusra or even ISIS. They’re fleeing because they can’t live safely in their towns and villages when there is a constant fear of airstrikes and barrel bombs – the most barbaric of indiscriminate weapons.

I’ve spoken to people in Syria, and they’ve told me they could put up with the odd mortar shell, sniper or tank fire. They could even put up with living in IS areas or living with Jabhat al Nusra, just about, but not a weapon that can flatten an entire building, turning it into a tomb for those unlucky enough to be trapped alive beneath it. Those who come to rescue any survivors become themselves victims with the regime’s “double tap” method, where a second barrel bomb is thrown down to get rid of the survivors. It’s diabolical, it’s perverse, and it is contrary to all morality and logic. This is what’s driving people to risk their lives and everything they have for a better one abroad.

The West lacks the political will to do anything while Assad’s allies back him to the hilt. Yes, foreign fighters have done a lot to undermine the Syrian revolution, but that pales in comparison to the material support given to Assad by Iran and Russia. It took two years for the Assad regime to realise that President Obama is actually doing everything he could *not* to touch Syria, and after that the Russians threw him a lifeline, a way out, from the corner of red lines that he’d talked himself into. The disarmament deal that was supposed to “punish” the Assad regime really just gave him a green light to use all other weapons to brutalise the Syrian people, including his airforce, which is nowhere to be seen whenever Israel conducts its airstrikes inside Syria.

Today Prime Minister Cameron might grudgingly agree to allow a few thousand more Syrian refugees into the United Kingdom, as will Europe, but what will the world do in six months? In a year? How long will these band-aid fixes continue to be applied while everybody shirks their international obligations and does nothing to stop the slaughter in Syria? By doing something, I’m not talking about the meaningless term “political solution”, but taking hard action to stop a dictator’s regime from tearing the entire Mediterranean apart so that he can stay on his throne. Sorry, the picture of a dead baby, however heart breaking, is not enough to sway the world’s conscience into action. People will keep risking their lives in the hope of safety and a better life, it’s human nature.

Made up of bloated corpses, blood, guts, stale semen, decayed food, sweat and petrol fumes, there is a stink rising from our Arab countries, and the world just wants to pinch its nose. The only thing this poor baby might have done is to awaken the fetid consciences of the Arab bourgeoisies, as they tweet their heartbreak over social media from across the Arab world’s glittering capitals. To them, I say shukran for your condolences and your Arabian hospitality. Oh, and can the last person out of Syria please turn off the lights?

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