MARIANOSZTRA, Hungary — Hungarian prison inmates are ramping up their production of razor wire, working around the clock as Hungary prepares to build a second fence on the border with Serbia to keep out refugees and other migrants.
The razor wire manufacturing at the prison in Marianosztra, northern Hungary, has increased from two shifts earlier this year, to three. Besides its domestic use, Hungary has also sold or donated fence elements, including wire and steel posts, to other countries in the region, including Slovenia and Macedonia.
“The inmates are manufacturing razor wire in three shifts a day, with 13 inmates in each shift producing the wire,” Lt. Tamas Szep, the prison’s press officer, said Wednesday. “The capacity of the plant is around 100 wire spools per day, which is heavily influenced by the fact that most of the work is done by hand.”
Human rights organizations consider Hungary’s fences erected last year as the first step in efforts by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government to dismantle the country’s asylum system.
Hungary’s Helsinki Committee says the fence, the closure of asylum centers and other measures are destroying the asylum system.
“The asylum system, over the past year, has been basically emptied of its capacity to provide protection,” said Helsinki Committee co-chair Marta Pardavi. “There is a clear policy of zero migration, of zero refugees coming to Hungary.”
Other steps taken by Hungary in recent months to destroy its asylum system include the closure of refugee reception centers, the elimination or reduction of subsidies to assist the integration of people granted asylum, the deterioration of legal safeguards for refuges and new measures which allow the summary return across the fence of migrants caught near the border.
While the fence could serve legitimate defense needs, criticism of the barrier is exacerbated by the very small number of refugees — up to 15 per day — who are allowed to file asylum claims at a couple of makeshift “transit zones” set up by Hungary on the Serbian border. Hundreds have been waiting, sometimes for months, in deplorable conditions.
“Hungary is closing its territory with a fence with the aim of keeping out of the European Union those who need protection from terror, persecution and torture,” said Gabor Gyulai, director of the Helsinki Committee’s refugee program. “A functioning asylum system has been willingly destroyed by the government for political reasons.”
Orban’s anti-migrant policies have been building toward a referendum to be held Oct. 2 in which the prime minister hopes to gather political support for his opposition to any future EU plan to resettle migrants among its member states.
Separately, Hungary is also challenging the EU in court, hoping to prevent having to temporarily take in 1,294 refugees until their asylum claims are decided.
The government’s relentless referendum campaign includes a ubiquitous galaxy of anti-migrant posters, television ads, multiple daily statements and forums held by government officials and from Orban’s Fidesz party, as well as a pamphlet distributed to voters warning about the alleged risks of migration.
One of the claims is that there are hundreds of “no-go” zones which “authorities are incapable of keeping under control” in cities of countries with large numbers of immigrants like Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. According to the pamphlet, “the written and unwritten norms of the host societies do not apply” in those areas.
In its own way, the Hungarian government has already achieved its goal, as many of the few hundred refugees a year granted asylum in the country prefer to leave.
The government policies “are basically condemning the refugees to homelessness and unemployment,” Gyulai said. “It’s no wonder that many refugees, even after they get protection here, move on toward western Europe.”