Two days with refugees
The original blog post in Hungarian (with pictures) can be found on this link.
I spent two days with a group helping refugees at Keleti Railway Station, Budapest. I sliced carrots, prepared sandwiches, and what I liked most: I also got to help in handing out the food to the hungry refugees. I was exposed to a huge amount of impulse during these two days. Other volunteers, who have already been doing this work for over two months, passed on a lot of information, to this then I added my own experiences. I have been preparing to go to Budapest for weeks, and I also decided earlier that I would write about what I saw and heard there.
My feelings were slightly disturbed by people’s reactions to my photos I posted on Facebook. I dare say, I stirred some emotions amongst my friends, and received hot and cold equally (or rather the refugees did). Because of this you might find my writing somewhat erratic, as there are still a lot of unsettled thoughts inside me. My originally intended post is now extended with issues raised in comments to my photos on Facebook.
People know nothing about the refugees, and hatred is the easiest choice. They read a lot of stupid things on the Internet and they actually believe all of it. It is interesting how they are willing to believe news from uncertified sources, yet refuse the story of an actual eye-witness. All in all, there are a huge number of questions waiting to be answered. Because of this I will either be very long or write in separate installments. So, I begin:
First of all: I am not happy about these people being here. I am not happy about the fact that their presence costs huge amounts of money and effort to the Hungarian State and to the volunteers. I would much rather that they’d stay and live in peace with their families, in their homeland, getting around with their everyday lives just like I do. I think this is what they think, too. I reckon they would be a lot happier if they could have stayed at home.
Their presence raises a lot of questions amongst Hungarians, aspiring to be ever more “Christian” these days. What should they do with these people? In order to help find a solution, they sit in front of their computers, creating swarms of posts and comments, hoping that the situation will somehow will be resolved and that they will find the best solution to it. There are those whose maximum output capacity in this debate ends with “they should be shot”, others are offering to go and do actual work to help.
Secondly: why do they come? One thing is for sure: in hope of a better life. Whether they are economic or political migrants – I do not much care, to be honest. I heard many stories from the volunteers. I could unfortunately not talk to them myself, as my English knowledge is equal to that of a snail’s capacity to run. I heard a lot of upsetting tales. One of the young ladies told me about a group of young boys to whom she wanted to hand over some food. She was holding it out to them, seeing that they were obviously fatigued. None of the boys reached for the food. She could tell that this was more than just politeness. It turned out that all 13 of the boys had the first knuckle cut off from all 10 fingers on their hands. They were the ‘lucky’ ones, ‘only’ being tortured. Many refugees’ family members were beheaded or executed in other ways. Volunteers told me that many youngsters are full of wounds, cuts and scars. So, most of them are running here, away from torture or death. Naturally this does not mean that some don’t come here for an adventure, and I accept that there are probably those amongst them who are driven by malicious intentions.
Thirdly: Are they rich? Those “camping out” at Keleti Railway Station did not look too glamorous to me during the days I spent there. I saw no signs of designer shoes or clothes people talk about. Young people were wearing old trainers, torn sandals, slippers and some just simply went barefoot. I have not seen one single piece of clothing with a label known to me. Many had bandages on their feet, as they walked hundreds of kilometers to get here. They were not carried by anyone, they walked. Many do not eat for days, as there is nothing to eat. People caring for them said that in the first wave of them there were indeed some more wealthy people. They however did not accept food either, they went out and bought some for themselves. Nowadays people running away are the ones from the villages, many of them never even seen a city. It was interesting to see for example that they have a complete disregard to traffic lights, as if they did not know what they are for. Of course, there are wealthier refugees, still, but the majority are starved-out poor people, who lost their homes and their families. A large number of them are young, between 15-25, without parents or any relatives. Many of them got this far with money put together by their remaining family members to get them out of the hell their homes turned into.
Four: Who is helping them and with what sources? Volunteers giving their own free time to aiding the refugees. They are doing this besides their daily jobs. They did not magically appear for this task, they have been working with homeless and other needy people for years. Therefore the accusation that they do not care for Hungarians is not true. Next to the refugees all nearby homeless people received from the food handouts. Facebook Commentators who demanded that aid workers help Hungarians instead proved to be the most narrow-minded ones. As can be expected, all these comments came from people who themselves never helped one single homeless person or other people in need.
During my time in the kitchen I saw several people coming in and offering their time and expertise, as they heard that this was the place to do so. Some offered money, but they were told that no money is accepted, only food. The volunteers told me that they receive a lot of aid offered by civilians, and this is what ensures that they can provide hundreds of portions of meals three times a day. Donors go to the nearby supermarkets, pay for lorry-loads of food which is then delivered to the volunteer centre. I ran into a small van full of bread and water – it was purchased from donations of Chinese people. The government is not giving any help to these people.
Fifth: What are the refugees like? Maybe this is the best part. Most of them are young, between 15-25, but you can find all ages amongst them. They are not dirty! Considering the circumstances they keep unbelievably clean. Their clothes are not dirty, they do not appear unkempt. Approximately 1000 people are crammed around the station. We handed out several hundreds of plastic plates for lunch, and by the time we were back to hand out supper, there was no plastic litter anywhere. Obviously when you look at the place your first instinct is that it looks messy with all these people, but once you actually start seeing and understanding the real situation, you will find that the location is a lot more organized than people would like to think.
When I first arrived to headquarters, I was greeted with unusual cheerfulness on behalf of the volunteers. They said refugees respect ‘big beefy men’, with tattoos and piercings. At first I did not get it as I don’t consider myself “big”, I hardly weigh 100 kg. Then when I first went amongst the refugees I understood: they are small people, young lads, curiously staring at my tattoos. I was often used as a living barricade to ensure that they queue up for the food in a single line. With the help of 3-4 young, 13-14 year old Afghani boys we managed to handle hundreds of people at a time. They weren’t shouting or disorderly; the people queued calmly. There was only this one guy trying to shove and push people, arguing with those reprimanding him, but I tamed him and finally he too stood in line peacefully. When he got next to me with the queue, he gave me a high-five. During the two days I walked past several hundreds of refugees. I watched their reactions, their behavior. There is no difference. There are good and bad people amongst them too. Most of them are bearing their fate with calm peace, but there were some impertinent youngsters too, who are in no way different to any Hungarian teenager. Some found it natural and expected to be served by us. Some refused to even say thank you. Some selfishly tried to get more than one portion, trying to queue up repeatedly or sending their children to jump the queues. These however consisted only a fragment of the mostly very normal, nice group of people spending their days peacefully at the station.
Once there was a little boy, around 3 years old, just queuing up next to me. Children stared at me even more. He was looking up at me with awe, when I noticed that both his shoelaces were untied. I kneeled down to tie them for him. His dad became very embarrassed and kneeled down himself to do the other shoe. When done and we stood up, men around me all looked at me with a smile and were thanking me in a chorus. I think till then they must have thought that I was some sort of a bouncer, and just realized that I was one of the aid workers. Youngsters walking past me made some impertinent comments in a language unknown to me, and laughed out loud when I replied in my own language. Many people smiled at me kindly. I was standing there amongst many men, and I never felt threatened. I had no reason to be.
When we ran out of warm food, and there were still about 200 of refugees queuing, we told them to wait, we will bring sandwiches. They smiled, and sat down to the floor one by one. They did not shout nor did they act in any way upset. There was, however, an upsetting incident I witnessed this time.Since I knew that the sandwiches will be a while, and everyone was sitting down anyway, I thought I walk around a bit amongst them, and see the places where they actually lived. I suddenly noticed a small scrum, people shoving and pushing each other and more of them running towards them. Then I realized that they were “fighting” for some bananas, and water – they tore and grabbed for them as they could. Those able to get a bunch of banana left the scene with a victorious smile. They love fruit.
Hungarian passer-byes made some disapproving, snarling comments about them being like “animals”. I however saw it entirely differently. I was over my fourth food-distribution by then, and I never once saw a scene similar. We too distributed some fruit that day, but only children could get it then. They had to queue up separately. Adults would have liked some, too. When they were told that there is only enough for the kids, they were disappointed, but understanding. There was no disorder amongst them at all. What could the problem have been with the other lot, then? Most probably it was delivered by someone inexperienced first-time helper, who did not know the system and had not known how to distribute the donation. They just left the few boxes of banana in the middle of the square. Should they have used our method of distribution, there would have been no problem. Not that there were any problems from this, either, only that those few passers-byes formed their bad opinion based on this one scene alone.
Overall, I really enjoyed these two days; I am completely worn out. All my respect goes to those who have been doing this for over 2 months. Many of them are worn out emotionally too, I could see that also. A bond develops between helper and refugee. Most of the volunteers are female, even more susceptible to forming emotional bonds with the families. As they told me, it was sometimes hard to accept that a group with a tragic fate or a family they got close to in a couple of days, suddenly disappeared as they took off to the West during the night.
I very much hope that the leaders of Europe will find a humane solution for this problem. I don’t find this status quo at all acceptable or sustainable. I do not see the real reasons behind it, neither do I know the consequences of it. I do not care, either as I am only a miner from North-Western Hungary. I know however that people who are hungry, should be fed and that it is our duty as Christians to treat them humanely even if their culture and religion is different to ours.
Right wing politicians like to refer to Europe’s Christian roots increasingly in their rhetoric nowadays. Interesting however that they never actually go into specifics, what these roots really are, they only speak in general terms. I would like to draw the attention of these Christian Europeans to this quotation of the Bible, which to me speaks possibly of the single important idea in Christianity itself:
“If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink!”