Refugee families stuck at Hungary's border

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Refugee families stuck at Hungary’s border

The waiting list is getting longer, so many people live between the borders and barbed-wire fences. Alice Wyss and Todor Gardos report.


Flying a kite in the Horgoš 'pre-transit zone'. by Alice Wyss and Todor Gardos

‘The journey has been so difficult, especially for my child,’ Noor (not her real name), a 27-year-old woman from Afghanistan tells us. ‘She’s been scared and cried every day.’

Noor is in Horgoš (Хоргош) on the Serbian-Hungarian border. This is a pre-transit camp with tents by a high barbed-wire fence. Each morning she goes to look at the list with hundreds of other people. They all want to see where their name is and how much longer they have to wait. The list decides if hundreds of people can move on to Hungary and the European Union. Some of them have been on the journey for months or years.

Noor asks to speak to us away from children. She says they have already seen and heard too much.


Children playing in Horgoš 'pre-transit' camp on the Serbian-Hungarian border. The camp is near a high barbed-wire fence. Alice Wyss and Todor Gardos

‘Life for us became very difficult…It was too dangerous for us to leave the house. We had to leave, we had no choice,’ she tells us. ‘My dream is to see my daughter happy. I want her to be able to go to school, to learn and to finally be safe.’

We have heard this story many times; they travelled over land from Afghanistan to Turkey, crossed by boat to Greece and had to stay there in very bad conditions there. Then they went north through Macedonia to Serbia.

But now, they are only names and numbers on a very long waiting list. They live one day to the next. The camps are by the border in Horgoš and Kelebia. They are now the ‘pre-transit zones’. Refugees who want asylum in Hungary have to wait here. The only place they can get water is a couple of sinks. There is a line of portable toilets by the fence. There are no showers and no areas for children to play or for adults to rest. Most of the families stay all day in their simple homes made around small tents, to get away from the dirt and the hot sun. Some people carried their elderly mothers and fathers on their backs and in wheelchairs to Europe. We meet pregnant women who will soon have babies, mothers with new babies, families who’ve left everything to escape the destruction of their towns by the armed group that calls itself Islamic State (IS) or the Taliban.

First the Serbian border police ignored these camps, first ignored. Then they started guarding them. Now about 600 people live there. There are more than 400 people in Horgoš. Most of them speak Farsi. In Kelebia there are about 200 people who speak Arabic or Kurdish. Most of them are families with small children.

It is easier to communicate and calmer if the people have the same language. But it’s very difficult to wait many weeks.


Horgoš 'pre-transit' camp on the Serbian-Hungarian border. Alice Wyss and Todor Gardos

The Hungarian authorities open simple processing posts open for a short time every morning in shipping containers. They allow 15 people into each of the two transit zones. The camp leaders choose these people. Different organizations make lists and do surveys, but there is no official way to see who needs most help.

Mistakes with the list can be terrible for some people. ‘E.’ is a 17 year old boy from Afghanistan. He was not with his family, but another family looked after him when they travelled to the border. But his name was not on the list with this family. So he had to wait 45 days, and then they sent him back to the camp. The officials said he should have been on another list.

In Kelebia, we meet a Kurdish family of seven from north-east Syria. ‘We decided to leave because Daesh (IS) came to our city, killed our men and kidnapped our women.’

Earlier this year, they spent four very difficult months in the camp in Idomeni at the border between Greece and Macedonia. The mother is about to have a baby. They don’t know if the baby will be born in in Serbia or Hungary.

In Horgoš we meet a family of eight from Afghanistan. The youngest child is three and she wants to play. Her mother is sick and in a lot of pain. She needs treatment now, but she cannot get it in the camp.

‘We are so afraid,’ her husband says, ‘we don’t know what to do’. They have been in Horgoš for almost a month and they are number 127 on the list. There seems to be no way to cross the border to get medical help.

The refugees who can finally cross the border into Hungary and enter the European Union will find more problems and tears.

Refugees should not need to risk their lives and suffer so much to find safety in Europe; they need respect and safe, legal routes to protection.

Alice Wyss and Todor Gardos are Europe researchers at Amnesty International. They are now in Hungary.


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