The UN human rights office (OHCHR) has voiced alarm at reports that migrants and asylum seekers who are being held in Hungarian detention centres are being “deliberately deprived of food in contravention of international laws and standards”.

OHCHR Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva that under existing laws in Hungary, migrants and asylum seekers who are undocumented, are immediately detained in transit zones during the asylum procedure, or until they can be sent back to their country of origin.

“We are concerned by the absence in these transit zones of meaningful individualized procedures, which are required to ensure deprivation of liberty is an exceptional measure, and that all risks prohibiting a person’s return, are taken into account.”

She said once Hungarian authorities begin proceedings to expel “rejected” applicants, they stop being given food. “Pending the enforcement of the expulsion, adults – with the sole exception of pregnant or nursing women – are deliberately deprived of food, which can lead to malnutrition and is both detrimental to their health and inherently inhumane.”

Ms. Shamdasani said that since last August, at least 21 migrants awaiting deportation had reportedly been deprived of food in this way, “some for up to five days”.

“We note that the Hungarian authorities had promised to end this practice following an interim measure by the European Court of Human Rights. However, we regret that, in the absence of a clear change in the legal framework, reports suggest the practice is continuing”, she added.

She said that if migrants were arbitrarily detained in “inadequate conditions” or facing coercion, that would render any returns involuntary.

The OHCHR Spokesperson reminded all States, of their “obligation and heightened duty of care towards migrants who are deprived of their liberty, including through the provision of food.”

“We encourage Hungary to ensure it fulfills its human rights obligations towards those deprived of liberty, regardless of whether they are in transit zones or any other place where migrants are detained and cannot provide for themselves.”