Hungarian officers beat migrants severely, rights group says

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Hungarian police and soldiers have beaten some migrants severely before sending them back across the border to Serbia, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday.

Since July 5, migrants caught within 8 kilometers (5 miles) of the border are being returned to the Serbian side of the razor-wire fence built by Hungary last year to stem the migrant flow. Police said 621 people were sent back to Serbia through the fence during the first week the new rules were in effect.

One of the claims of abuse noted in the HRW report said men in a group of between 30 and 40 migrants that also included women and children were beaten by soldiers for two hours after being detained in Hungary.

"I haven't even seen such beating in the movies," the reported quoted an unidentified man as saying. "Five or six soldiers took us one by one to beat us. They tied our hands with plastic handcuffs on our backs. They beat us with everything, with fists, kicks, and batons. They deliberately gave us bad injuries."

Others interviewed by HRW claimed to have been beaten by police and of being injured when forced back to Serbia through small openings in the razor-wire fence.

The HRW report was based on interviews with 41 asylum-seekers and migrants as well as officials from a wide range of Hungarian and international institutions, including the U.N. refugee agency, Hungarian police and the immigration office.

The organization said Hungary was also failing to comply with international standards regarding asylum-seekers, for example by quickly dismissing most asylum claims from single men, while accepting only 15 claims daily at each of the two transit zones on the Serbian border. This has led to hundreds of refugees being stranded at the border in precarious conditions.

"The abuse of asylum seekers and migrants runs counter to Hungary's obligations under EU law, refugee law, and human rights law," said Lydia Gall, the advocacy group's regional researcher. "The European Commission should use its enforcement powers to press Budapest to comply with its obligation under EU law to provide meaningful access to asylum and fair procedures for those at its borders and on its territory."

"Hungary is breaking all the rules for asylum seekers," Gall said.

The Hungarian government did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but authorities last month rejected similar allegations of abuse reported by the U.N. refugee agency. HRW said it sent its findings and questions to Hungary's Office of Immigration and Nationality, as well as to the interior and defense ministries on June 13 and did not receive any response.

HRW also said Hungary was applying "legal fiction" at the transit zones on the border, as people there were not considered to have entered the country even though the zones are in Hungarian territory. This makes it possible for Hungary to ensure that refugees whose asylum claims are rejected in the transit zones do not try to stay in Hungary or pass through the country, as nearly 400,000 people did last year, on their way west.