Hungarian authorities have stopped distributing food to rejected asylum seekers held in transit zones at the border with Serbia since early August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
According to the rights group, two Afghan families and a pair of Syrian brothers were among those who were denied food after their asylum applications were rejected under a new admissibility procedure.
Hungary's Immigration and Asylum Office, in a statement to Euronews, has denied any wrongdoing.
'New inhumane low'
A woman breastfeeding and children in the Afghan families were given food, but their legal representatives told HRW that they had been explicitly told not to share it with other family members.
“The government has stooped to a new inhumane low by refusing food to people in their custody, apparently revelling in breaching human rights law, including its obligations as a European Union member," Lydia Gall, Eastern EU and Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“This disregard for people’s wellbeing smacks of a cynical move to force people to give up their asylum claims and leave Hungary,” Gall added.
On August 10, the country's authorities were ordered by the European Court of Human Rights to resume food distribution for the two Afghan families, after the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC), another rights group, filed an emergency appeal.
They have since also been ordered to resume food distribution to three other appeals, including on behalf of the two Syrian brothers.
Hungary's ruling Fidesz party has been vocal in its opposition to proposed EU migrant resettlement quotas and in 2015, at the height of the refugee crisis, ordered the erection of a razor-wire at the border with Serbia to stop illegal migration.
The government also pushed through controversial laws preventing rights group and individuals from providing assistance to migrants and asylum seekers. Widely condemned, the laws are now the subject of a court case between the European Commission and the Hungarian government.
Several amendments to the asylum law have also been enacted.
One, from March 2017, allowed authorities to place rejected asylum seekers in "aliens policing procedure" in designated areas, including transit zones, pending deportation.
Another, from July 1, grants the government the right to deport asylum seekers whose claim they have deemed inadmissible even if they appeal the decision, forcing claimants to either accept being placed in transit zones or give up their claims and cross the border back into Serbia.
According to HRW, "nearly all asylum claims by people who entered Hungary via Serbia or any other country listed as a safe third country under Hungarian law are considered inadmissible."
'The law complies with EU directives'
The HHC said the latest governmental actions amounted "to inhuman treatment and an absurd legal situation."
"Starvation is torture," the group said in a statement posted to Facebook on Tuesday announcing the launch of a case against the government at the European Court of Justice.
The country's Immigration and Asylum Office has rejected the claims of wrongdoing.
In a statement sent to Euronews on Wednesday, it said that it was carrying out its duties in accordance with the law and that it paid "particular attention to the rights of persons with special needs and the overriding interests of children."
"In the case of the designation of a mandatory place of residence in the alien policing procedure, aliens' rules do not provide for the food supply.
"The asylum and immigration law complies with EU directives, so it is impossible for the Office to violate Hungarian or EU law," it added.