“When they beat us, they were laughing with each other. The policemen, when they beat us, they are taking selfies with us.”
This account given by Shahid Khan, a Pakistani asylum seeker, is among countless reports of abuse by police guarding Hungary’s heavily reinforced borders.
He said he was attacked before being photographed and then chased away using police dogs, adding: “They treat us like animals, and we are humans.”
Humanitarian organisations say the treatment has become a feature of Hungary’s policy on refugees, with warnings from the United Nations falling on deaf ears in the country’s right-wing government.
Farhad, a 34-year-old man from Iran, described how he was among around 30 refugees including women and children who crossed Hungary’s border fence before being surrounded by dozens of police.
Uniformed men ordered them to sit on the ground with their hands on their heads – then a two-hour attack began.
“I haven’t even seen such beating in the movies,” Farhad said. “Five or six soldiers took us one by one to beat us. They tied our hands with plastic handcuffs on our backs.
“They beat us with everything, with fists, kicks and batons. They deliberately gave us bad injuries. We asked why they are beating us but they just said: ‘Go back to Serbia’.”
He also reported officers taking selfies on their mobile phones and laughing during the assault, when asylum seekers were sprayed with tear gas.
Ehsan, a 28-year-old from Iran who was also part of the group, said they were eventually ordered to crawl through a hole made in Hungary’s barbed wire fence border.
“I was the last in line to cross the fence back to Serbia – they let the dogs on me,” he added.
“I fell to the ground trying to grab his collar and a police officer struck a blow to my face from the side.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) obtained a photograph showing Ehsan bleeding from an injury next to his eye, with his face covered in bruising that lasted more than a fortnight.
Lydia Gall, the group's Balkans and Eastern Europe researcher, said it has received numerous reports of police taking selfies with abused migrants and filming them, compounding the beatings with humiliation.
After a new law was implemented in July to allow refugees caught within five miles of the Hungarian border to be forced back into Serbia, she said a policy was introduced for police to film the operations.
“They made people stand in front of a camera holding up a piece of paper listing that they had irregularly crossed into Hungary,” Ms Gall added.
“Part of that statement on film would say police officers have behaved nicely and appropriately.
“Once they stopped filming, a lot of migrants said the beatings would ensue so there would be no marking on the official video.”
She said the “staged” filming was allowing the Hungarian government to refuse to properly investigate the allegations, adding: “The the fact nothing is being done to stop it is completely unacceptable.”
As extreme cold swept Europe at the start of 2017 and temperatures in Hungary plummeted to -20C, a new form of torment was reported.
Refugees said border police would take their drinking water and pour it over them before abandoning them in the snow, sometimes taking coats, clothes and shoes.
“They were dumping them at random points at the border in the middle of the night and exposing them to potential death by hypothermia,” Ms Gall said. “We had people showing up [in Serbia] completely naked.”
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have crossed into Hungary on their way from the shores of Greece to western Europe but the right-wing government has spared no expense to stop their journeys.
Thousands of guards have been deployed to patrol the country’s 100-mile southern border with Serbia, where soldiers and prison inmates are expanding a barbed wire fence into an electrified 13ft barrier.
Armed with heat sensors and cameras, it features loudspeakers blaring messages in English, Arabic and Farsi.
“Attention, attention. I'm warning you that you are at the Hungarian border,” the messages say.
“If you damage the fence, cross illegally, or attempt to cross, it’s counted to be a crime in Hungary. I’m warning you to hold back from committing this crime. You can submit your asylum application at the transit zone.”
But the “transit zones” allow just a handful of migrants to cross each day at two designated border posts, leaving at least 7,000 people trapped in Serbia in dire conditions and increasing desperation.
The country’s right-wing government has dismissed criticism over its migration policies, approving a new draft law that would see refugees locked in border camps made of shipping containers while their cases are decided.
Applications will be declared inadmissible for anyone who entered the Hungary from Serbia or a “safe third country”, while the appeal period will be cut to just three days and migrants may have to cover the costs of their own imprisonment.
The new bill would also allow authorities to detain all adult asylum seekers in its territory and summarily return those refused to the Serbian border as part of “crisis” measures in place until September.
The European Commission opened infringement proceedings against Hungary in December 2015 but no progress in the case has been made public, while the UN Refugee Agency’s opposition to push-back operations has gone unanswered.
“As long as there is this complete and utter silence it sends a really bad message to the police officers at the border because they know they can get away with it,” Ms Gall warned.
“It’s all part and parcel of the Hungarian government’s policy of keeping people out or making their lives as miserable as possible.”
The crackdown is intensifying despite a dramatic fall in the number of refugees journeying to Hungary after the EU-Turkey deal was implemented a year ago to prevent boat crossings to Greece.
Viktor Orban, the anti-immigration Prime Minister, has dubbed migrants “poison” and claimed they are a threat to security and European culture that must be held back.
“If we can’t do it nicely, we have to hold them back by force,” he said. “And we will do it.”
A spokesperson for the Hungarian government said: "The Government of Hungary utterly rejects allegations which are once more seeking to discredit personnel on duty at the border. From the beginning of the current migrant crisis, Hungary was one of the first Member States to enforce EU rules, and has been protecting the EU’s Schengen borders, stopping, registering and separating out genuine refugees from economic migrants. Hungarian police officers and soldiers are protecting the EU’s Schengen borders lawfully and in compliance with EU and Hungarian regulations.
"The police are performing their duties lawfully, professionally and proportionately, and they place special emphasis on treating migrants humanely and with respect for their human dignity. Migrants on Hungary’s borders are not being harassed, and the significant numbers of unaccompanied minors who have been arriving are being provided with protection, health care and education.
"Hungary treats those in genuine need humanely, and those waiting on its borders or on its territory receive fair treatment. Migrants are also expected to abide by EU and Hungarian laws, however."
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