Refugees forced to scramble for food by police in Hungary
Hungarian police are investigating a video showing police in surgical masks throwing packs of sandwiches to refugees clamouring for food at a reception centre, as the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, claimed the country was facing “a rebellion by illegal migrants”.
The footage, posted on the YouTube channel of the Austrian politician Alexander Spritzendorfer, and supposedly taken by his wife, Michaela Spritzendorfer-Ehrenhauser, is said to have been taken at a refugee camp in Röszke on Hungary’s border with Serbia, where .
Hungarian police told Reuters that they had launched an emergency inquiry into the video.
In , Orbán defended police in remarks to reporters, claiming refugees had rebelled against Hungarian authorities, seized railway stations and rejected registration in the past few days.
“Considering that we are facing a rebellion by illegal migrants, police have done their job in a remarkable way, without using force,” he said, adding that from 15 September, when tough laws on immigration take effect, those who cross Hungary’s border illegally will be arrested.
Zoltán Kovács, a spokesman for the Hungarian government, said the police in the footage were attempting to maintain order in trying circumstances.
“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,” he said.
Human Rights Watch said conditions were “abysmal” at the Röszke camp. “The detainees at Röszke are held in filthy, overcrowded conditions, hungry and lacking medical care,” said Peter Bouckaert, HRW Emergencies Director, citing video footage and interviews with people who had passed through the camp or were still there.
Hungary was on Friday among four central European countries whose foreign ministers reiterated their opposition to an EU plan for national quotas in accepting refugees across the bloc. The Czech foreign minister, Lubomír Zaorálek, who hosted his counterparts from Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, told reporters: “We need to have control over how many we are capable of accepting.”
The EU president, Donald Tusk, said he would call a summit of EU leaders if there was no agreement on the refugee dispersal. “The time has come to take decisions. From that meeting, we will need a concrete, positive sign of solidarity and unity,” he told reporters on a trip to Cyprus.
There have been growing signs of the arrival of more than 170,000 people this year, seeking sanctuary in Europe from war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. On Thursday alone, on the border, according to official data.
On Friday the UN refugee agency said it was sending pre-fabricated housing units for 300 families to Hungary to help provide temporary overnight shelter for some of the arrivals.
William Spindler, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for (UNHCR) said the agency was “closely following” the way people were being treated in the country. He said: “Obviously we expect authorities to respect rights of refugees whether they are the police or army”. The UNHCR is also sending emergency supplies for 95,000 people to the region wider region, he added.
At the same briefing, Spindler welcomed , while saying this remained insufficient: “Of course the United States could and should do much more, but it is a step in the right direction.”
Spritzendorfer-Ehrenhauser said she took the detention centre video footage while delivering sanitary supplies to refugees with the Hungarian Red Cross. “It was about 8pm and they were giving dinner to people,” she said. There were maybe 100 people trying to catch these plastic bags with sausages ... They were not able to organise a camp and treat them like human beings.”
While the UNHCR has praised the Hungarian police’s handling of the crisis, officers have complained of being forced to work long hours in impossible conditions.
Vincent Cochetel, the commission’s regional refugee coordinator, said: “It is not easy at the border, it was tense at the railway station and there is no quick fix because people sometimes are angry, they are sometimes aggressive, sometimes for good reason, sometimes for bad reason.”
Those stranded at the Hungarian border have waited days to be registered, while conditions at makeshift frontier camps are basic. Medical care for the crowds at Budapest’s railway stations has been provided entirely by volunteers.
The bulk of those arriving in the country are seeking to travel westwards, mainly to Austria and on to Germany to claim asylum. Thousands of people are now walking to Vienna from Austria’s main border crossing point with Hungary after rail traffic was suspended due to overcrowding.
Austrian Federal Railways said it no longer had the capacity to deal with the thousands of people at the Nickelsdorf crossing wanting to board trains daily to the Austrian capital.
The German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, said 4,000 troops had been put on standby ahead of the expected arrivals. She said the would be able “to help out in emergency cases” and would exercise “maximum goodwill” toward the refugees.
Also on Friday, another arm of the UN warned that many more people in Syria could seek to head to if there is no end to the war there. Peter Salama, Univef’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “There could be millions and millions more refugees leaving Syria and ultimately to the European Union and beyond.”
According to Macedonia’s state news agency, around 7,600 refugees, mainly Syrians, entered the country during 12 hours overnight into Friday, the highest number seen so far.
“We have information from our Greek colleagues that more migrants are travelling towards the Macedonian border in buses,” Alexandra Krause of the UNHCR was quoted as saying, according to AFP.
Most of the arrivals register with authorities before being taken by bus north to the Serbian border, and then on to Hungary.