BUDAPEST, Hungary – Human rights groups and refugee advocates said Wednesday Hungary is unnecessarily holding hundreds of asylum-seekers in detention and hindering the treatment and recovery of traumatized survivors of torture.
Gabor Gyulai, head of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee's refugee program, said 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 centers.
"Hungary is one of the few EU member states that as a regular practice detains first-time asylum-seekers," Gyulai said, adding that among 443 asylum-seekers detained in Hungary as of Feb. 1, 40 percent were from Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq.
A report presented jointly by the Helsinki Committee and the Cordelia Foundation, which offers psychiatric counseling 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-traumatization, that there is frequent verbal abuse from staff toward detainees and that there are no trained mental health workers in the detention centers.
Psychiatrist Lilla Hardi, medical director of the Cordelia Foundation, said that therapists need to building up trust with torture victims before rehabilitation can begin.
"People who have suffered torture face challenges due to their psychological state," Hardi said, including extreme frustration and serious depression. "Torture is a man-made trauma, which is why our patients lose their basic trust" with other people.
While the experts welcomed Hungarian authorities' permission for access to the detained asylum-seekers, their recommendations ranged from allowing asylum-seekers to keep in touch with family members via the Internet to regular access to interpreters.
The report's conclusions and recommendations were also based on visits to detention centers in Bulgaria, where asylum-seekers are also often automatically detained for up to 18 months.