A pregnant migrant in Hungary was escorted to a regular check-up by 17 guards, claims a UN report that criticised the "prison-like" migrant transit zones on the country's border with Serbia.
Migrants — since the height of the crisis in 2015 — have been held at special holding camps called transit zones while their asylum requests are pending.
That year 175,000 people applied for asylum in Hungary but by last year there were just 635 new applications.
Felipe Gonzalez Morales, the UN's special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, who produced his report after an eight-day visit to the country, said: "The severe restrictions on the freedom of movement of asylum seekers as well as the carceral environment in the transit zones qualify as detention in nature."
"I notice with concern that this security-oriented approach regarding migration governance is presented and implemented with little consideration to the human rights of migrants in Hungary.
"Furthermore, many of the measures adopted seem totally disproportionate to the current situation, overemphasizing the security approach."
'Women and children with cancer untreated for months'
Morales said there were 280 people in two transit zones on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia and that 60% of them were children.
He called on Budapest to end the practice of detaining asylum-seeking children adding it was never in their best interests.
Hungary responded to Morales' criticism by saying the security measures were necessary to "protect Hungarian people".
Morales said the transit zones are surrounded by a razor-wire fence, which is also placed on the roof of the living containers accommodating children, families and pregnant women.
"Asylum seekers’ movements within the transit zones, whether to visit other sectors, to meet with their attorney or to visit the medical unit, are escorted by armed security guards," he wrote. "This also applies to toddlers under three-years-old.
"One pregnant woman was escorted by 17 guards on her way to the hospital for a regular pregnancy check-up.
Morales said hygienic conditions in the transit zones were "satisfactory" but said women and children with chronic diseases and cancer had remained untreated for months.
In a press conference, he also said that an asylum-seeking woman who recently had an operation at the local hospital had been handcuffed to the bed for five days without sufficient food.
'It's to protect Hungarian people'
Tamas Menczer, Hungary's State Secretary for Information and International Representation, said in a video on Facebook that "migration being a security risk is common sense".
"Over the last few years, we've had 30 terror attacks, more than 300 people were killed and over 1,300 were injured," he argued.
"The UN Special Rapporteur is criticising us because we don't let migrants move around freely in Hungary. he judges us because of the border fence and the transit zones. But the fence will stay where it is because it protects the Hungarian people," he added.
NGOs and opposition lawmakers have also denounced the transit zones, including independent Hungarian MEP Bernadett Szél.
Szel visited the transit zones two weeks ago and demanded the government put an end to "prison nursery" and the deprivation of food for migrants. The European Court of Justice has ordered the Hungarian government to provide food to those held in transit zones several times since 2018 after emergency appeals from NGOs including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.
But in response to Szel, Hungarian Minister for Justice Judit Varga argued that "many refugee camps in Europe would be delighted if they had the same conditions as we do in our transit zones."