ROSZKE, Hungary -- Hungary deported a family of six Afghan asylum-seekers to Serbia on Tuesday, making them cross through a gate in the border fence in the dark, with no one waiting for them on the Serbian side.
The nighttime deportation was considered very unusual and was witnessed by staff from the U.N. refugee agency.
The couple and four children were taken from a transit zone for asylum-seekers to the border aboard a police truck, and they were visibly distressed as they carried their belonging into Serbia in large trash bags.
"This is the worst country in my life," the mother could be heard saying to police shutting the border gate. She told them that they, too, could be refugees in the future. "You remember that!"
Hungary has a double line of fences on the Serbian border. They began going up in mid-2015, at the height of the migrant crisis in Europe, when sometimes nearly 10,000 people a day — many from Syria Iraq and Afghanistan — were entering Hungary from Serbia, on their way to Western Europe.
The fences are crowned by razor wire and equipped with heat and movement sensors, cameras and watchtowers. There are also several strands of electrified wiring in front of the fences, though the Hungarian government has claimed that they are not meant to harm trespassers.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a third consecutive term in April 2018 campaigning almost exclusively on his fervent anti-immigration policies.
The Hungarian branch of the Helsinki Committee, which gives legal assistance to asylum-seekers, said it had secured an interim measure at the European Court of Human Rights to stop the deportation of one of two other Afghan families also awaiting a similar fate.
"The asylum claim of these three families should have been examined on their merits by the Hungarian authorities instead of trying to deport them," said Andras Lederer, the Helsinki Committee's information and advocacy officer.
Legal changes introduced last year by Hungarian lawmakers make it much more difficult for asylum-seekers to file successful applications in Hungary.
For example, asylum-seekers' claims are to be rejected if they traveled through countries where they were not persecuted or at risk of persecution. This makes it possible to turn back refugees who cross into Hungary from Serbia, like many do after following a land route through the Balkan region.
According to Hungary's Immigration and Asylum Office, 279 people were granted asylum or some degree of protection in the first four months of this year. It added that as of April 30, there were 3,616 people who are legally recognized as refugees or have been granted protection in Hungary, a country of 9.8 million.