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Hungary Forces Asylum Seekers To Border Camp


We're going to focus now on a country that is showing its discomfort with asylum seekers. Hungary is along the path many refugees and migrants have taken from the Middle East and North Africa to Germany. Some asylum seekers have been staying in refugee camps. And now Hungary has begun moving them into a new camp where people have to live in cramped converted shipping containers. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson visited one.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Everything about this camp on the Hungarian side of the border with Serbia feels unwelcoming. Razor wire tops the fences surrounding refurbished shipping containers on what's said to be a 12-acre facility here in the small town of Tompa. It looks more like two.


NELSON: Stern-looking Hungarian guards stop anyone who tries to leave through every exit but one, a gate that feeds directly back into Serbia. That's the country thousands of asylum seekers are trying to leave for Hungary and the EU. But Hungarians are only allowing 10 to enter each day. And those allowed in are forced into this camp and another one close by. One asylum seeker hoping but also dreading to enter Hungary is Iraqi Mooiya Khawaja. We talk through a chainlink border fence.

MOOIYA KHAWAJA: Now it's four months I'm in Serbia.

NELSON: Do you feel like a prisoner?

KHAWAJA: Sure, 100 percent. And after that, we have another prison in Hungary.

NELSON: Marta Pardavi is co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a prominent refugee advocacy group.

MARTA PARDAVI: It's as if Hungary would be interested in having no asylum seekers and migrants coming to Europe altogether.

NELSON: EU officials in Brussels are less vocal in their criticism. They fear triggering a backlash from Hungarians, most of whom agree with their government that the mostly Muslim asylum seekers pose a threat to Europe. Interior Minister Sandor Pinter, who organized the tour of the Tompa camp, waved off the international condemnation.

SANDOR PINTER: (Speaking Hungarian).

NELSON: He says, "it isn't detention just because people walking in the street in front of your house aren't allowed inside."

PINTER: (Speaking Hungarian).

NELSON: We are shown the newly expanded section of the camp, much of which looks staged. Beds look as if they've never been slept in. And the paddles and balls on a ping pong table are still in their plastic wrapping. The residents are nowhere to be seen. An official here says they were taken to another camp to protect their privacy. As we leave the camp, Khawaja beckons me to the fence.

KHAWAJA: I have just one message for you. You can give it to another people, too.

NELSON: Thank you.

KHAWAJA: You're welcome. Bye.


It's a letter he wrote about asylum seekers escaping war and suffering only to end up in what amounts to a prison. He asks, is this the European human rights? Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Tompa, Hungary.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.