September 27, 2016 / 10:32 AM / in 3 years

Days before referendum, Amnesty criticizes Hungary over treatment of migrants

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Hungary of mistreating refugees and migrants on purpose to deter them from seeking to cross into the European Union from Serbia, days before the country holds a referendum on EU migrant quotas.

The Hungarian government had no immediate comment on the report in which the human rights organization accused Prime Minister Viktor Orban of replacing “the rule of law with the rule of fear.”

Critics say Hungary has been heavy-handed in answer to the migrant crisis that saw about 1.3 million people reaching the European Union last year. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said Hungary should be expelled from the bloc for breaching European values, including erecting a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia.

Amnesty’s director for Europe, John Dalhuisen, said of Orban: “His attempts to deliberately prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Hungary have been accompanied by an ever more disturbing pattern of attacks on them and the international safeguards designed to protect them.

“Appalling treatment and labyrinthine asylum procedures are a cynical ploy to deter asylum-seekers from Hungary’s ever more militarized borders.”

EU states are bitterly divided over how to share out the burden of caring for those who have made it into the bloc and have increasingly focused on sealing their external borders to prevent any repeat of an uncontrolled mass influx.

Some have praised Budapest for sharply reducing the number of irregular border crossings after hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants moved up from the Balkans towards northern Europe last year.

In July, Budapest denied that its law enforcers had mistreated asylum seekers when the U.N. refugee agency urged Hungary to investigate reports that its forces had beaten asylum seekers and unleashed police dogs on them.

Amnesty International, which said it interviewed 143 people for the report, said some of the interviewees quoted “excessive force being used during ... push backs, with asylum seekers being beaten, kicked and chased by dogs”.

Hungary refused to take in refugees or migrants under an EU burden-sharing plan. Instead, Orban announced a referendum for Oct. 2 on whether to accept any future EU-wide quotas.

With a massive pre-referendum campaign, criticized by rights groups, Orban is riding a wave of anti-immigration sentiment.

“European leaders need to get organized not ‘Orbanized’. Their failure to robustly challenge Hungary’s breaches of EU law will strengthen the hand of xenophobes and populists,” said Dalhuisen.

Human Rights Watch said earlier in September that Hungary had used “excessive force” against migrants and had kept them waiting for weeks in poor conditions as it restricted access to asylum. Hungary rejected those allegations “in the strongest terms” and said they amounted to “false accusations”.

Additional reporting by Krisztina Than in Budapest, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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