BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Asylum seekers are being mistreated in Hungary and its asylum system is "blatantly designed" to deter refugees from seeking protection there, rights group Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday.
Amnesty's findings in its "Stranded Hope" report echoed similar research released in past weeks by other groups like Human Rights Watch and which have been rejected by the Hungarian government.
Amnesty was also critical of Hungary's efforts — since new rules went into effect on July 5 — to "push back" to Serbia asylum seekers detained up to 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the border. Several people interviewed by Amnesty claimed that they have been beaten, kicked and chased by dogs during their forced returns.
"Appalling treatment and labyrinthine asylum procedures are a cynical ploy to deter asylum seekers from Hungary's ever more militarized borders," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Director for Europe. "Against the backdrop of a toxic referendum campaign, poisonous anti-refugee rhetoric is reaching fever pitch."
Hungary will hold a government-sponsored referendum on Sunday meant to build political support against any future European Union plans to resettle refugees among member states. The government's ubiquitous billboard and media campaign has been accused of fomenting xenophobia and anti-migrant prejudices.
Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said earlier that allegations about police beatings of migrants were "sheer lies" and that all reports of abuse had been investigated.
Kovacs also said that changes to Hungary's asylum system, including the closure of reception centers and less integration assistance, were needed "because migrants very consciously misuse the existing system."
Hungary's decision to process only up to 15 asylum claims per day at each of two "transit zones" on the Serbian border has stranded hundreds of asylum seekers on the Serbian side of the razor-wire border fence which Prime Minister Viktor Orban ordered to be built last year.
Amnesty also called on European leaders to "robustly challenge Hungary's breaches of EU law" to avoid its practices from spreading to other European countries.