refugees police throw food damon nr_00002913.jpg
Police throw food to desperate refugees
02:10 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

'There has been a de facto rebellion among illegal migrants,' Hungarian premier says

Video shows police officers lobbing sandwiches into crowd of refugees

Migrants have complained of inhumane treatment at Hungary reception centers

Roszke, Hungary CNN  — 

Video has emerged that shows police throwing bags of food into crowds of refugees from behind a barrier at a migrant transit camp in Hungary, a country at the forefront of Europe’s migrant crisis.

Men, women and children can be seen being pushed and jostled as the crowd surges to try to catch the plastic-wrapped sandwiches, lobbed by helmet-clad police from behind a line of fellow officers, some wearing hygiene masks.

An activist shot the footage Wednesday at a facility that authorities run in Roszke, on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia. The video emerged Friday.

Hungary, which lies on a popular transit route from Greece through the Balkans to Northern and Western Europe, has seen tens of thousands of refugees and migrants – many of them fleeing war-torn Syria – cross the border in recent weeks.

It’s one of many European countries struggling to cope with the influx – but has been singled out for criticism by rights groups for alleged mistreatment of the migrants.

On Friday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban provided a different picture of the migrants’ overall conduct, which he described as “a de facto rebellion.”

The Premier praised police for dealing with the massive migration “without the use of force.”

“I would like to thank the Hungarian police because in recent days there has been a de facto rebellion among illegal migrants,” Orban said in televised comments.

“They occupied a railway station, they refused to be fingerprinted, they did not cooperate and they refused to enter facilities where they could receive care, such as food, water, shelter or medical treatment. They have rebelled against Hungarian law,” Orban said.

Authorities provided a similar defense of police when asked about the video.

Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told CNN that the “video shows people within the facility don’t wait until they get provisions. The police are trying to hold them back; they were almost rioting.”

Kovacs said the facility was a registration area for refugees, not a shelter, and that police – who had been working nonstop for nine months – were showing great restraint.

The footage of food being thrown tallies with the accounts of migrants who’ve told CNN in recent days of receiving inhumane and degrading treatment at the Roszke camp, where many have been held for days after crossing the border.

Some described food and water being thrown to them as if they were animals. They also spoke of cramped conditions inside the facility, which resembles a concrete hangar, and a lack of access to adequate medical care.

The refugees’ reception has fueled frustration, leading some to break through police lines or embark on long marches across the country as they seek to move on.

Rights group points to ‘abysmal conditions’

Hungary, a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention aimed at protecting refugees, has also come under fire for erecting a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia to halt the flow.

But the government has said it is just trying to enforce European Union rules on the movement of migrants without proper documentation.

Last week, attention focused on the plight of thousands of refugees stranded at Budapest’s main Keleti rail station after Hungarian authorities temporarily halted international train services.

The migrants have said they simply want to pass through Hungary to reach countries seen as more welcoming to refugees, such as Germany and Sweden.

A Human Rights Watch report released Friday cited what it described as “abysmal conditions” in two reception centers in Roszke. Its assessment was based on footage filmed inside the centers and interviews with migrants who had been held there, it said.

“The detainees at Roszke are held in filthy, overcrowded conditions, hungry, and lacking medical care,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Hungarian authorities have an obligation to ensure that migrants and asylum-seekers are held in humane conditions and that their rights are respected.”

An Amnesty International researcher also last week cited refugees who spoke of “rough treatment” at the hands of Hungarian authorities.

One woman, named as Dina, 46, told the rights group she had come to Hungary with her son and his wife, who is seven months’ pregnant, and they were seeking to travel on from Keleti to Germany as soon as possible.

Border police detained them for 16 hours without giving them food or water, she said. “I want to start a new life in peace. … They are treating us like animals, worse than animals.”

Meanwhile, the scale of the refugees’ migration on one route apparently has been seriously underestimated, according to one group.

At least 175,000 migrants from Syria have reached Greece in 2015, a figure that’s twice the previous estimate, the International Organization for Migration said Friday.

Overall, a record number of 423,761 migrants, including refugees seeking asylum in the European Union, have made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean so far this year, the IOM said.

That number is more than twice the 219,000 figure for all of 2014, the group said.

Most of the arrivals in 2015 were registered in Greece, with 309,356 people. The next top destination was Italy with 121,139.

A total of 2,748 migrants have died so far in 2015 while trying to cross the Mediterranean, accounting for 73% of all migrant deaths worldwide, the IOM said.

EU states urged to respect human rights

On Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker set out proposals for mandatory quotas for EU states to take in 120,000 refugees who were already in Italy, Greece and Hungary on top of plans made in May to relocate 40,000 from Italy and Greece.

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, welcomed the plans but said the relocation needs of the 160,000 refugees – including their preferences and qualifications – should be taken into account.

Addressing reporters Friday in Geneva, Switzerland, William Spindler said that given the urgency of the situation, the proposals would need to be implemented “fully” and “swiftly.”

UNHCR is ramping up its capacity in all countries affected by the flow of refugees and stands ready to support all EU measures to respond to the crisis, Spindler said.

He emphasized that refugees must find a welcoming environment when entering the European Union and that borders must be managed in line with national and international laws, which include guaranteeing the right to seek asylum.

Pope Francis discussed the refugee crisis in a meeting Friday at the Vatican with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, the Vatican said via Twitter.

Both leaders addressed “the condition of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and displaced persons, and the importance of promoting a shared solution to the current crisis,” it said.

EU member states must still agree to the European Commission’s proposals. Their interior ministers are due to meet Monday to discuss the issue.

Amid concern over the welcome – or lack thereof – given to some migrants, the Council of Europe issued new guidelines Wednesday to its 47 member states on their treatment of the new arrivals.

The recommendations address “the reception and temporary living conditions of migrants and asylum seekers, to ensure respect for their human rights,” Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland said in a letter.

Jagland added that “many of the incomers are asylum-seekers whose requests to stay in Europe will be accepted” and said that “it is self-defeating to mistreat or demean any future member of our societies.”

Are countries obligated to take in refugees? In some cases, yes

CNN’s Arwa Damon reported from Roszke, and Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported from London. CNN’s Brent Swails, Pierre Meilhan, and Christine Theodorou contributed to this report.