In the face of the most serious migration crisis to hit Europe in the many years, the Hungarian government took legal and physical steps to stop refugees at the southern border: the Serbian section of the country’s border was sealed with barbed wire fences while arguably unconstitutional criminal sanctions were introduced. The new border control measures took effect on September 15, 2015. As a result, thousands of refugees were stopped at the Serbian side of the Röszke-Horgos border crossing point, where they were not provided with any relevant information, accommodation, medical treatment, and only faced a quite slow official border-crossing procedure.
On the afternoon of September 16th, 2015, behind a cordoned gate at the border crossing point, Hungarian riot police troops were arrayed since a group of refugees started to protest and tried to convince the police to open the gate and let them through. At 2:30pm stones were thrown over the cordon; first line police officers responded by using pepper spray against the first line of refugees. This led to an escalation in the violence; the crowd became aggressive and started throwing stones, pieces of wood and plastic bottles. The police then fired tear gas and used water cannons against the refugees from the other side of the gate. Due to the kinetic impact and indiscriminate effects of these weapons, peaceful refugees, children and women were also affected.
At 5:30pm that day, the police removed the cordons – only the gate remained – and the troops were pulled back. Some refugees then opened the gate and hundreds of peaceful people – including women, children and elderly people – started to cross the border, yelling “Thank you!”, believing that the border had been officially opened. Though the crowd behaved peacefully, suddenly the troops of the Hungarian Counterterrorism Centre (CTC) – which is an independent body, separate from the police forces – ran from behind the police lines and attacked the calmly walking people and started to beat them indiscriminately with truncheons and telescopic batons. The people turned back and tried to run, but CTC officers hunted them down. During the attack, journalists with cameras were also beaten and hit with rocks, even those who lay on the ground or tried to help others. The injuries and unlawful treatment of journalists are well-documented. The press reported that around 300 refugees had been injured, while the police reported that about 20 policemen had been injured.
During the attack, the CTC officers were wearing protective gear but did not wear identification numbers, and there is no information so far on who ordered the attack. There is no evidence either to show that the crowd had been previously warned three times, as required by law, before the attack began, as claimed by the police. The CTC refused to comment on the incident, and neither the police nor the CTC published any pictures taken – in spite of the fact that recordings of many other operations were publicized. The internal investigation conducted by the head of the police concluded that all the actions were lawful, skillful and proportionate. However, the police is currently conducting investigations against 14 people for rioting.
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee has asked the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights to initiate an investigation regarding fundamental rights violations in the incident. The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union tried to acquire the police incident reports through freedom of information requests, but these requests have so far only been partially answered, and partially denied based on inadequate reasons. A proper investigation that could offer transparency and accountability by the police for these actions remains pending.