Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife in Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Video footage shot by an Iranian Christian father and his son held in detention on the Hungarian-Serbian border underscores international concerns about the circumstances of asylum seekers living here. Hungary threatens to deport them back to Iran, though the father may face the death penalty there for abandoning Islam. Their short film premiered at human rights festivals in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.
Behind barbed wires, Iranian artist Abouzar Soltani and his 10-year-old son Armin have been stuck in the notorious Transit Zone in Hungary for almost a year. They and others are forced to live in blue containers after asking asylum.
Abouzar Soltani and Armin entered Hungary legally in December 2018. The two did so after waiting for more than two years in neighboring Serbia.
They reflect on their experiences in the three-minute film “Fish” shown at the international human rights festival Verzió in Budapest.
It also premiered in Slovakia’s capital Bratislava. But Hungarian authorities did not allow the creator out of the closed-off zone for the occasions.
Abouzar Soltani, a talented artist, made his documentary on his mobile phone. He used his professional experiences in Iran, where he worked in public relations and as a decorator at a healthcare provider.
Three and a half years ago, he decided to leave his strict Islamic nation.
In the film, Soltani explains that he wants his son, who can be seen drawing art, to realize his dreams. But he says that’s only possible in a nation with space for those who have different opinions or believes.
He said: “The fact that this film is seen outside these fences, gives hope that one day my son and other refugee children and their families will be able to live freely outside of these fences. And that we can pursue our dreams.”
He and his son arrived in Bulgaria first, where they were locked up for three months. They then moved on to Serbia, where they had waited for two and a half years before stepping into Hungary through the transit zone in Röszke.
But Hungary is unwilling to accept their application for asylum because they arrived through Serbia, which authorities view as a safe country.
However, Serbian authorities don’t want to take them back. Now Hungary intends to deport Abouzar Soltani, and possibly his son, back to Iran. But there Abouzar Soltani potentially faces the death penalty because he converted from Islam to Christianity.
Ironically Hungary’s government has developed a program to protect persecuted Christians. But Hungarian officials say Christians should be supported in their own countries, even if that means facing hardship.
The Soltani’s aren’t alone. Among the asylum seekers held in Hungary are many children. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR estimates that as of October this year, at least 178 children remain detained in two Hungarian Transit Zones. Since March 2017, more than 1,700 children have been held in the Transit Zones’ container camps, some more than a year, according to U.N. officials.
The Soltani’s have sued the Hungarian state three times to prevent deportation, but their future remains uncertain.