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Hungarian state obliged to compensate asylum seeking family tormented in the transit zone

Another judgment has been delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against Hungary due to unlawful detention of an asylum seeking family in the transit zone. Four Iraqi children and their parents were held by the Hungarian authorities for nearly five months. What is more, the mother was pregnant with their fifth child during their detention in the container camp at Tompa, Hungary. And yet, Hungarian authorities couldn’t care less. The family has been represented by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

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Váltás magyarra

After five years of inglorious operation, in May 2020 the transit zones of Röszke and Tompa were finally closed and the unlawful detention of refugees in the transit zone came to an end. However, more and more international court judgments condemn the Hungarian state for systematically subjecting asylum seekers detained in these camps to inhuman and degrading treatment.

Today, yet another judgment of this kind has been delivered by the European Court of Human Rights. The victim of the inhumanity of the Hungarian state was once again a fleeing family with young children. 

A family escaping persecution

The family of Kurdish ethnicity fled Iraq. The father had uncovered an extensive crime, filmed an oil theft at work, and communicated the case to an independent television channel. He had been detained, beaten and tortured by the national security service for nine days. 

The family of six then fled Iraq. At that time in Hungary asylum applications could only be submitted at the transit zone. 

During their detention at the Tompa transit zone, which began on 3 April 2017, the father, a torture survivor did not receive professional medical help, despite his repeated requests.

In addition, the mother was diagnosed with high-risk pregnancy and suffered from several health problems for she had to be taken to hospital several times for prenatal care and medical treatment. She was transported to the hospital with an armed police escort in a prisoner transport van. When her husband was taken along to interpret for her, he was taken by armed police in handcuffs and led on a leash all along. The humiliating treatment undermined their dignity while their children were terrified and did not understand why their parents were treated by the Hungarian authorities as dangerous criminals. 

Despite their vulnerable status, the Hungarian asylum authority attempted to deport the family to Bulgaria, which was successfully prevented with the help of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. The court in Szeged besides quashing the Bulgarian transfer decision also ruled that the family’s deportation to Bulgaria would qualify as inhuman treatment because of the woman’s high-risk pregnancy.

During the scorching heat of the summer of 2017 the family lived in a small metal container surrounded by barbed wire-fences with no shade in sight. The three older, school-aged childrens’ special needs were completely ignored by the authorities.

Although the family repeatedly indicated to the asylum authority that the conditions were inhuman and not at all a suitable accommodation for the family with small children, their detention lasted 4 months and 20 days. 

The Iraqi family remained detained under the same conditions even after the Strasbourg Court’s interim measure of June 2017 calling for the Hungarian Government to provide adequate conditions. The family was released from the transit zone detention on 24 August 2017, only because they received international protection, eventually being granted the status as ‘beneficiaries of subsidiary protection’. 

Having suffered severe traumas at the transit zone detention and facing a complete lack of integration assistance by the Hungarian state, trying to escape the prospect of destitution, the family found a new home in Germany after their release. There, psychologists also found that the harmful psychological consequences of their detention in Hungary were borne both by the mother and one of the younger children.

Today’s judgment by the ECHR 

In today’s judgment, the Court found that Hungary had unlawfully detained the entire family without access to legal remedy and that the conditions of detention for the children and the mother amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, whereas the use of handcuffs and leash on the father was unjustified and diminishing his human dignity, all these being in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment therefore awarded the whole family EUR 15,500 as just satisfaction, that is, compensation.

“While the ruling of the Court does not erase the traumatic memory of those almost 5 months spent in detention, it does confirm that what the detained children and their parents experienced as inhuman is in fact considered inhuman and degrading according to the law. The judgment is also important in a more general sense, because the Court has once again aligned itself with the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union issued in May 2020, which declared that placement in transit zones qualifies as detention, and moreover as unlawful detention. This can give hope to the many clients of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee who are still awaiting the Court’s decision in their pending cases” – said Barbara Pohárnok, attorney of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and legal representative of the Iraqi family.

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Hungarian Helsinki Committee