“Without shoes, for four hours”

  • Date and time: July 31, 2019 01:30
  • Location: near Tompa border crossing, Hungary
  • Coordinates: 46.150353988622115, 19.51622495597394
  • Push-back from: Hungary
  • Push-back to: Serbia
  • Demographics: 12-14 person(s), age: 15-25 years old; respondent: 22 years old , from: Afghanistan
  • Minors involved? Yes
  • Violence used: beating (with batons/hands/other), kicking, pepper spray, destruction of personal belongings, theft of personal belongings, reckless driving
  • Police involved: 6 Hungarian police officers, unknown number of Serbian police officers
  • Taken to a police station?: yes
  • Treatment at police station or other place of detention: detention, photos taken, denial of access to toilets, denial of food/water, assaulted (kicking and baton strikes) while loaded into parked vehicle
  • Was the intention to ask for asylum expressed?: No
  • Reported by: Border Violence Monitoring, Escuela Con Alma

Original Report

On July 31st, a transit group of 10-12 Afghani men attempted crossing from the Serbian town of Subotica to Hungary by climbing onto a freight train. At approximately 01.30, the train was searched in Kelebia (Hungary) by Hungarian police officers and the men were detected. The Hungarian officers employed blinding torch lights to locate the men attached to the underside of the rail carriages.

At the moment of discovery, approximately six or seven Hungarian “border police officers” were present. An additionally, 20 men were present, who the respondent described as “private security officials.” The private security officers were clad in dark-blue uniforms and wore yellow security vests, without any police insignia. According to the testimony, the private security officers were involved in both the detection of the men and their detention. The respondent said that the regular border police were mostly standing some distance away.

After the transit group was discovered, they were asked by the private security officers about their country of origin and how many of them were present. The transit group were then surrounded by the private security officers on all four sides, told to line up neatly, and then to lie down in a “crouching” position with their hands crossed over their heads. They had to remain in this position for the following 15-30 minutes while the members of the transit group were being searched.

Private security officers searched the members of the transit group one by one. They destroyed all electronic equipment, including phones, headphones, and powerbanks, by throwing them onto stones on the ground. Shoes were also taken away from the group members and were not returned. Money and documents, especially “camp cards” from Serbian refugee camps, were initially confiscated but later returned by the private security officers.

The frisking was accompanied by intense physical violence. Private security officers beat members of the transit group indiscriminately with black batons. They exacted this treatment against the men’s arms, torsos, and even their heads. Additionally, the transit group were kicked by the private security officers in their back and neck as they were lying on the ground. Due to this treatment, some of the men sustained injuries to their backs and one man’s lip was split open. The private security officers also employed pepper spray, which caused intense irritation to many of the men’s eyes.

“They beat a guy too much, and he is sick now. They hit him very much.”

After everyone had received a body-searched, the people-in-transit were told to get up again and were escorted by the private security officers to the train station’s police station a few hundred meters away. Most of the people-in-transit were told to sit down in a garage or carport-like structure. However, individuals were repeatedly told to get up and stand by a wall where they were searched once again, a process accompanied by further beating and kicking.

During the entire detention – approximately two hours – the respondent was not asked to sign any documents. Instead, pictures were taken of each man with a professional camera, and the private security officers also took several group photos of the entire transit group. The Afghani men were refused access to the toilet and no food or water was provided.

At approximately 03:00, a police van similar in size to a Mercedes Sprinter, drove into the police station. The transit group were told to line up and enter the vehicle. As they climbed into the van’s rear, they were beaten with batons and kicked “to speed up the process.” The van’s interior was divided into two sections with a tight wire mesh. The entire group had to cram into one of these sections such that there was very little space. There were no windows in the van.

The van was driven by Hungarian police officers. The respondent said that the private security officers remained at the train station in Kelebia (Hungary). The drive lasted some 20 minutes during which the driver accelerated and slowed down rapidly and also swerved left and right. The reckless driving caused fear and minor injuries to the transit group.

The van stopped by a “door” at the Hungarian-Serbian border fence. The transit group was ordered out of the vehicle and the door to a road in the middle of the fence structure was opened by Hungarian police officers. More pictures of the Afghani men were taken by Hungarian police officers, and a door to the Serbian side was opened by the Hungarian officers. An unidentified number of Serbian police officers were present on the Serbian side, but they made no protest against the transit group entering Serbian territory.

The transit group proceeded to walk into Serbia towards the town of Subotica. One man’s feet were injured so badly that he could not walk on his own and had to be carried by other members of the transit group. As the men entered Kelebija (Serbia), they called a taxi for that man which brought him back to Subotica. The others kept walking for approximately four hours until they reached Subotica.

“We walked without shoes for four hours.”

In the following days, several of the men had to take pain killer because of their injuries, and some of them could still barely walk at the time of this report being recorded, despite that being three days after the event.