Hungary under Viktor Orbán represented in our minds Europe’s misfit when dealing with the migration influx. We may be reminded of this when crossing to Serbia tonight, passing by the barbed-wire fence that was set up in fall last year.
During our stay in the Hungarian Capital however we met people, who are convinced that it is the right thing to support migration into Hungary and they act according to it. First, we spoke to Luca Laszlo. She is one of the main volunteers of an organisation which exists since the refugee influx into Hungary started to increase in 2015. Since then, she has spent a lot of time in the so called ‘Afghan park’ in the 8th District. This place is close to the major transit train station Keleti in Budapest and many refugees used to stay there to prepare themselves for the next leg of their journey. According to Luca, most used Budapest as a simple transit stop, charging their phones and organizing their next part of the journey.
From cooking 2000 dinner meals during peak arrival times last fall to passing out sleeping bags and constantly being interviewed by foreign media now, Luca said that she is involved with the people in the Afghan Park in particular and the issue of the refugee influx in general on a daily basis. Luca also told us how she witnessed the story of a homeless man, whose live was saved by a 16-year old Afghan refugee in front of Luca’s soup kitchen last August. Read up on the full story here.
Next up was a visit to the St. Columba’s Church of Scotland where Rita, a more or less full time volunteer welcomed us. The Church of Scotland has been helping migrants in Budapest for decades, and they are now running a safe community space for people in need. Hungarian and English lessons are offered, religious council is available if needed, kids come to play and refugee families meet there regularly to meet each other and discuss their concerns or to simply hang out and enjoy the friendly atmosphere. This led to us not only having a very informative but also a very sportive and physically demanding visit. Not only did we play soccer, table tennis and basketball with the kids, but Timo ended up wrestling a 51 year old Iranian father. After Timo got his neck twisted and had to tap out, the two of them shared a lemonade and a hug.
Talking to the refugees and migrants present during our afternoon at the mission reinforced what we encountered already during the last four weeks: people will be first and foremost just that – people – no matter what nationality, religion, sex, gender or race might characterize them. Our visit to Budapest showed us that despite that xenophobia and racism continues to negatively influence the migration discourse in Hungary, there is a great number of volunteers in the capital whose passion and work effectively counters these sentiments.
To be continued…
In our blog post earlier today we said we would cross from Hungary to Serbia tonight. As we bypassed the transition space between the two border controls we saw a number of tents behind a fence with barbed-wire. Long story short, we convinced the military guards to allow us in. Neither one of us could have imagined in the slightest way the miserable conditions we encountered. We talked to a group of extremely kind Syrian people from Damascus, Aleppo and Kobane, who had walked all the way up to the Hungarian border. After I asked a woman named Mona about the health situation in the camp she responded in tears that she herself had cancer, and many other people suffered under bad diseases. As the conversation went on we heard about Amina who had almost died after giving birth to her beautiful young daughter three months ago in a tent in Idomeni. We also met young kids, some of which so badly burned from the sun that their skin felt like sandpaper to me when I hugged them. While we carry on our journey with an open and optimistic mind, tonight we have felt nothing short of pure helplessness. It seemed unfair, almost upsetting, when Florian and I were able to easily pass the border guards after our visit. As we left the transition zone behind us Florian yelled angrily “One passport… just one fucking passport”.