What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Refugee politics in Debrecen: Reloaded

Instead of some well-worded, expert take on the Paris donor conference, I'll just bring up news here from Hungary about Afghans in the Debrecen refugee camp. In March I've reported on their struggles with Georgian inhabitants of the camp, and how the media predictably presented this as a minor, non-political, non-ethnic hickup in the functioning of the facility.
Now, Debrecen is one of three major refugee camps (actual camps, usually ex-Soviet military bases) in Hungary. Békéscsaba is where those possibly eligible for refugee status are filtered (or pre-filtered). The case of those selected is processed then in Debrecen. Thirdly and finally there is Bicske which is a so-called pre-integration camp.
Debrecen is a large facility, with only around 10% of its capacities currently used. That means that there are about 300 to 400 people housed there, while there's room for 3,000 to 4,000 otherwise. Besides police keeping an eye out for the internal order of the camp, there is an internal security service as well, and refugees from a different background can separate from each other and have their own space. Camp organisation does take into account the possibility of ethnic or any other kind of conflict. It doesn't rest on the assumption that refugees/people seeking refugee status are beings for whom politics in any form are somehow suspended. But life in the Debrecen camp is still full of tension, as that is where people are waiting for their case to be decided, and bureaucratic processes can take a long time.
Having the so-called supplementary protection which inhabitants of the Debrecen camp have, one is entitled to a passport and a personal ID card - yet getting those can take a long time, and for that while beneficiaries cannot work or travel.
Debrecen is a site of tensions therefore. What happens there cannot be described as non-political. Not even when Georgians and Afghans fight each other. But especially not when people launch a non-violent protest to get the papers they need. (According to an NGO spokesperson in Debrecen, whom you can see talking in the report linked to below, the Afghans have been asking for their papers for a long time now.)
You can watch a video of the protest here, at the Hungarian TV2's website. On June 11, at 8 in the mourning, four Afghans decided to climb a telecommunications transmission tower which happens to be located inside the camp perimeters. And they vowed not to come down until their papers arrive, or until they get some guarantee that it happens soon. Then at noon another Afghan climbed the tower, joining the others. Police didn't stop him, which I see as a wise decision based on what I know.
Photo (MTI, source here): Afghans rule the strategic height
Then the protest ended when the Afghans up there in the tower were told they will get their personal documents still on that day - which they then in fact did receive.
Pic from TV2's video reportage: Afghan and other inhabitants of the camp cheer those up in the tower
Meanwhile, police is now securing the area around the tower so that this incident not be repeated with regularity from now on.

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