27 Apr 2016

Disabled migrants accused of ‘mass riot’ in Hungary

Two disabled migrants are being prosecuted in Hungary after being accused of breaching the country’s border fence with Serbia and taking part in a “mass riot”.

Fattoum Hassan and Faisal Hamad were caught up in a mass disturbance at the border in September 2015.

Ms Hassan is 64 and partially sighted after being blinded in one eye in an air strike in Syria. Her other eye is affected by diabetes.

Mr Hamad, a 29-year-old Iraqi, was also hurt in an air strike in Syria. He uses a wheelchair because he has lost the power in his legs.

They are part of a group that has been held in detention for the last seven months, accused of taking part in a “mass riot” while attempting to cross the border after it had been suddenly closed.

At the time, Hungary had just passed a law making it a crime to breach the border fence – a reponse to the 400,000 migrants who had passed through the country last year on their way to western Europe.

Their lawyer and the UNHCR say it was not illegal for them to cross the border that day after it was officially closed, due to the terrible circumstances in their home country. They also say their disabilities make it impossible for them to have taken part in violence.

Police officers at the border in Roszke were hurt when stones were thrown at them by migrants trying to cross from Serbia. Tear gas and water cannon were used against migrants and refugees.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is renowned for the tough line he has taken during the migrant crisis, which saw more than a million people – many of them refugees – make their way to Europe in 2015. Hungary accepts very few asylum applications.

Since September, more than 2,500 migrants have been put on trial in Hungary for alleged border offences, with 99 per cent convicted.

Human rights groups say the system is unfair, with courts reaching decisions too quickly.

Many are sentenced to deportation, but none expelled to Serbia, which refuses to accept them. Instead, they are left in limbo in Hungary and banned from travelling to Schengen countries in Europe.

‘Explosive consequences’

Mr Orban, from the right-of-centre Fidesz party, and Hungary’s largest opposition party, the ultra-nationalist Jobbik, take a similar line on migrants and refugees.

In September, Mr Orban said the migrant crisis “threatens to have explosive consequences for the whole of Europe”, adding: “We shouldn’t forget that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture.

“Most are not Christian, but Muslim.”