Migráns Szolidaritás Group meets with asylum seekers in Vámosszabadi “open camp”

On the 18th of January 2014 some of the asylum-seekers living in the Vámosszabadi open camp invited Migráns Szolidaritás Group (Migszol) to visit them. While Migszol was waiting for their contact, D., in front of the camp, the local police came and after 15 minutes the police left since there was no trouble. (Reminder: MigSzol article on demonstrations that happened in Győr and Vámosszabadi against the camp opening).

General conditions in the camp

The general conditions in the Vámosszabadi camp seemed better than the ones in Bicske or Debrecen. This might be the result of the campaign of the locals who did not want the camp to open up – Immigration Office (OIN) wanted to make sure that the villagers have no reason to complain about the state the camp is in.

According to D. the number of people living in the camp was up to 200 persons last September. There are now around 40 people. They are mainly coming from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Kosovo but recently some people from Afghanistan arrived as well. Families with children stayed in the camp too. Currently there is a lot of free capacity. According to MigSzol the minimum obligation of the state should be that if there is free capacity in the open camps, the state must free the asylum-seekers from the jails and transfer them to the open camps.

There are six social workers in Vámosszabadi. They help in case of problems with doctors, give out hygienic products such as shampoo and soap, help with immigration issues and organise activities every week. They also give one hour of Hungarian lesson per week.

There is Internet access for the asylum-seekers in the camp, even though we were told that the connection is really slow. There is a common room with heater where people can gather together. A free bus to the city is available for the asylum-seekers. It leaves every day at 14:00 from the camp and comes back at 17:00. The people we meet had only nice experiences with the inhabitants of Győr so far.

MigSzol is happy to see that the conditions are generally better than in other camps, however the group thinks that they are still not adequate. MigSzol believes that living in a camp – segregated space – is not a good solution. The camp is 45 minutes walk outside of the city (with only one bus a day). It makes integration impossible and social interactions almost nonexistent. There is no space next to the camp to sit down for a drink, nor there is a place to buy food from.

The access to health care is problematic. A doctor comes every day from 14:00 to 14:30. The nurse stays longer. When they need to visit a specialist, the doctor takes the appointment for them. The procedure is really long; usually in between two to three weeks. The camp doctor gives them only painkillers.

In Vámosszabadi the staff provides the food. In other camps the refugees and asylum-seekers receive money for it. The asylum-seekers told us that they preferred the money system since they could cook their own food and/or decide to phone their families or lawyers. The food is now made by the camp’s cook. The asylum-seekers have a lot of problems with that, for example only Hungarian dishes are served, food they are not used to. For this reason some of them talked with the administration explaining that they would rather receive some money or at least cook for themselves. They were told that the cooks have a contract with the camp so they cannot fire them or change the conditions. Thinking that it is not fair if the cooks lose their job, some asylum-seekers volunteered to participate in the cooking so the dishes are now as they know and like.

D. and his friends said that they did not have enough winter clothes but Caritas gave them some. They reported that they are really worried about their future. MigSzol advised them to contact the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) lawyers to help them for their asylum process – specially for appealing in case of negative answer. They did not know how to get in contact with HHC (they have no money to buy credit for their phones).

MigSzol was informed that the police came twice in the last month to bring asylum-seekers from Vámosszabadi to a detention centre. These events created a stressful environment for those people living in the camp, thinking that they will be the next one.

At the same time the difficulties of living together was made easier thanks to a spontaneous organisation within the camp. Four month ago tensions and fights rose in between the persons living in the camp (different habits, different cultures…). They decided to meet and organise “a leader” for each nationality. If someone had a problem he would refer to his “leader” and then the leader talked with the other communities. The tensions stopped.

General facts regarding the asylum-seekers in Vámosszabadi

Access to legal support is difficult for asylum-seekers. D. took a private lawyer. He did not know about HHC when he needed it. He contacted this lawyer when he had problem in Debrecen camps. The lawyer is in Budapest. D. has to leave in the morning and come back at night in the camp whenever he needs to meet him. He pays from his personal money.

Not all people arriving in Europe or Hungary are aware of what the refugee status is – legally speaking. Some people did not know about the existence of Hungary before coming. Those people fleeing their country arrive to Europe and are trapped in a complicated system involving European and Hungarian legislation. That makes the entire asylum process even more difficult. Some people don’t know about their rights. This is also due to the lack of translated documents provided to migrants.

Finally the lack of information regarding their personal case of asylum procedure also creates a lot of stress. They spend a lot of time waiting for news. MigSzol provided some information and tried to answer some of their questions but insisted on saying that every case is different. There is not one answer. Last year there were 10 times more applications than usual in Hungary and this has probably caused the procedures to slow down.

In the end, even though the conditions in Vámosszabadi camp are generally better than in other camps in Hungary, the poor health access, the food issue, the confusion regarding laws and the lack of translated information make the process of asylum seeking long and stressful for those people who left their home hoping for a safer life.