Bicske refugee camp to close at the end of December
Just a quick trip to the refugee camp in Bicske, a small town outside Budapest, before the camp closes at the end of December. Bicske, which has been operating as a refugee facility for over two decades, is being shut down as part of a government-mandated wave of camp closures.
It is difficult to say what will happen to the refugees who live there—on the day of my visit there were 75 individuals in the camp, hailing from Cuba, Nigeria, Cameroon, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—or for that matter to the camp director and the social workers taking care of the camp residents. Human rights advocates and some NGOs believe that the Fidesz government’s decision to close the camp is not simply a matter of allocation of resources but part of a broader political strategy to push refugees out of Hungary.
Bicske, which could house as many as 460 refugees is operating well below capacity. The number of asylum applicants in the country has decreased dramatically over the past months. According to data from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, in October 2016, 1198 refugees registered for asylum in Hungary compared with 5812 in April 2016. As of October 2016, there were 529 asylum-seekers staying in Hungarian refugee reception facilities: 318 at open reception centers such as Bicske and 211 in detention centers.
The Budapest Beacon reported that the refugees will be relocated to a camp in Kiskunhalas in southern Hungary, some two and a half hours by train from Budapest.
The Bicske camp’s location has offered its residents opportunities to access a variety of educational and recreational activities that help them adjust to life in Hungary. Some refugees commute to Budapest to attend classes at the Central European University as well as language courses provided by NGOs. Bicske residents often attend events and meet with Hungarian mentors from groups such as Artemisszió multicultural foundation and MigSzol. Christian refugees are bused to an American church each Sunday morning. Moving the residents to Kiskunhalas will deprive them of these opportunities.
The Hungarian government offers very few resources to refugees — both to those in reception facilities awaiting decisions on their cases and those who have received asylum in Hungary. Access to the civil society organizations helping refugees prepare for their new lives is key.