Skip to main content

“The police grabbed the first man they saw. They grabbed him and started beating him with their batons. There was nothing we could do to help him, we had to just sit there and watch.”

Sadaat Qadir is a refugee fleeing the war-torn Middle East in hope of finding Asylum in Western Europe. Qadir is hoping to join his wife and young son who were granted asylum in France. He has been waiting to hear back from a French Family Reunification organization that may be able to reunite him with his family, but they have not gotten back to him in months. Unsure if the reunification process will pan out, he has tried what hundreds of thousands of refugees have attempted, crossing the Hungarian border.

This summer I have been working for ADRA, a global humanitarian organization currently providing protection and assistance to refugees living in Belgrade. Sadaat is one of many refugees I have worked with who has revealed to me their experiences of attempting to cross the Hungarian border, some going into graphic detail about the physical abuse perpetrated by the Hungarian border police. The refugees I have spoken with are not alone in their experiences, as NGO’s working with refugees in the area have been reporting on such barbaric brutality against refugees for over a year.

In a report released by Doctors Without Borders on July 22, 2016, head of mission in Serbia, Simon Burroughs, stated there has been an “increasing number of patients reporting violence” and showing “physical trauma directly associated with violence” at the Hungarian border. Burroughs added that these cases were “allegedly perpetrated by Hungarian authorities.” Other Human Rights Watch organizations reporting on the issue have cited incidences of dogs being released on refugees. There have also been multiple reports of officers stealing wallets and destroying personal belongings such as cellphones.

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, has released statements vehemently denying all accusations of violence carried out against refugees at the border. Orban’s spokesman Zoltan Kovacs described all claims of violence as “sheer lies.”

A series of disturbing pictures released by No Border Serbia, an organization centered in Belgrade that advocates for Refugee Rights, were taken at camps in Subotica and Kelebija, which are in the northern region of Serbia along the Serbian-Hungarian Border. These images document the abuse. NoBorderSerbia:


What Can Be Done?

The physical abuse carried out by Hungarian border police is a very serious Human Rights Violation that must be dealt with immediately. In order prevent this barbarity from continuing, Orban must stop promoting his xenophobia rhetoric. He must accept that refugees are human beings too. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen, as Orban doesn’t view refugees as humans, but rather as “a poison” to Hungarian society.

Many Human Rights Watches have called on the European Union to launch sanctions against Hungary in response to their treatment of refugees at the border. However, the EU’s current dealings with Hungary exposes the difficulty of imposing sanctions on a country run by an irrational, authoritarian leader. The EU is currently investigating two Hungarian laws passed earlier this year that have been criticized for their violation of human rights.

The first, known as “The Higher Education Law,” sets tight restrictions on foreign universities located in Hungary. This law targets Central European University (CEU), an American-Hungarian University located in Budapest. It is progressive and multicultural, ideologies that Orban and his government have stood firmly against. In April, the European Commission announced a formal notice to Hungary and began an investigation into the law. On July 13, 2017, the EU sent a “reasoned opinion” demanding Hungary amend the Education Law, which the commission claims “runs counter to the right of academic freedom” and “the right to education”  (Hungary). Hungary has one month to formally reply, or they may face EU sanctions.

Additionally, on July 13, the EU sent a “formal notice” to Hungary announcing they would begin infringement proceedings against Hungary’s controversial NGO law. The law requires all foreign NGO’s receiving 7.2 million HUF (~26,000 USD) to register as a foreign funded organization, and all of their publications must state that they are an “organization supported from abroad” (INFRINGEMENTS). Additionally, the law requires NGO’s to report personal information about donors who contribute more than 500,000 HUF (~1,850 USD). The European Commission condemned the law, stating it violates the “right to freedom of association” as well as the “right to protection of private life and personal data” (INFRINGEMENTS). Hungary has one month to respond, or the case may be sent to the EU court of Justice where they could face sanctions.

Hungary’s responses to both EU infringement proceedings are very alarming. They refuse to acknowledge either of the laws’ violation of Human Rights, and justify them by tying them into their stance on refugees.

In response to the EU sanctions surrounding the NGO law, Justice Ministry State Secretary Pal Volner declared “The government is ready to face infringement proceedings with relation to the NGO Act,” adding that the NGO’s targeted by the law are the “organizations that want to weaken Hungary’s defense capabilities in the fight against illegal immigration.”

Orban’s chief of staff, Janos Lazar, had a similar response in defense of the Higher Education Law. “We, CEU and Fidesz (Orban’s Party), peacefully coexisted side by side in the past years. The changes came about when George Soros (founder of CEU) announced a program about having to open Europe’s borders and call in a million immigrants a year.”

Unfortunately, these sanctions and Hungary’s response have exposed the difficult and tedious process of investigating EU members in violation of human rights. Even if the EU begins infringement proceedings against Hungary for their abuse of refugees at the border, it would be a drawn-out process that Orban would relentlessly fight against. It would likely take months or even years before sanctions are delivered, leaving refugees defenseless and subject to whatever heinous acts the border police deem necessary. Orban has proven that as long as he is in power, he will continue his war against Human Rights at all costs.


Work Cited

“Hungary: Commission Takes Second Step in Infringement Procedure on Higher Education Law.” European Commission – PRESS RELEASES – Press Release – Hungary: Commission Takes Second Step in Infringement Procedure on Higher Education Law. N.p., 13 July 2017. Web.

“INFRINGEMENTS – Hungary: Commission Launches Infringement Procedure for Law on Foreign-funded NGOs.” European Commission – PRESS RELEASES –

Photos From NoBorderSerbia: