“Lifelong friendships are formed here.” – Hospital at Keleti Station

Author: Zsófia Fülöp Original title: „Itt életre szóló barátságok köttetnek” – Kórház a Keletiben
Publication: Magyar Narancs Date: 12:11 06/09/2015

“Lifelong friendships are formed here.” – Hospital at Keleti Station

They are friends. When the football hooligans threatened, the refugees surrounded the helpers to protect them. An interview with the volunteers’ medical team about life, birth and death.

Many volunteers are helping out at the Tranzit Zone at Keleti Station. Some are giving out food, some are drawing pictures with the children, some are doctors, tending the wounded. We interviewed Baba, a Migration Aid volunteer, and Dávid Márkus, a Medical Aid volunteer at the tiny, improvised hospital at Keleti Station.

magyarnarancs.hu: How long have you been helping out at Keleti Station, and in what capacity?

Márkus Dávid: I have just finished my first year at medical school. I have been volunteering here for the past few days. Before that I volunteered at Röszke for Red Cross.

Baba: I have been volunteering here every single day for the past three months, whenever I’m not at work. I deal in jewellery and antiques, and I usually work at night.

magyarnarancs.hu: How many volunteers are in the team?

Dávid: It’s hard to tell. I know for sure that there are three doctors and three nurses here from morning till sunrise, as necessary. There are always new people joining the team, lots of new volunteers all the time. They all volunteer their free time, after work or school.

Baba: When Migration Aid started out, we didn’t have a permanent medical team, but after the zone was opened we tried to establish a health centre to make sure that doctors don’t have to look after the sick in the same room where food items are stored. After two or three weeks the Municipality and the Mayor also realised that this problem had to be solved, and we were given this place to use as a medical facility. It’s functioning perfectly now.

magyarnarancs.hu: Where do you get the equipment and medicine?

Dávid: We are now sponsored by the Mikszáth Pharmacy For Life Foundation. A few days ago a gentleman from the foundation came and told us they would donate all the necessary medicine from now on. Before that we had a list of things we needed most, and people brought whatever they could.

magyarnarancs.hu: To what extent can you look after the patients here?

Dávid: Within certain limits we can do a lot. We have various types of medication and equipment as well as trained doctors. We cannot do X-rays or CTs, and of course we cannot perform operations. The state is obliged to provide basic medical care for all residents of the country, including emergency care. We can send patients to the ER and they can go to the traumatology departments too. We try to organise the transport of our patients to hospital with the help of our volunteers, we call an ambulance only when it is really necessary.

magyarnarancs.hu: Why?

Baba: We’ve had some bad experience. The first question paramedics ask is about papers. There was a man who had the symptoms of a heart attack, and the paramedics refused to help, we had to find his documents first. Another problem was that for a while it was not clear whether ambulances were allowed to take refugees or not, so we were made to pay for their medical care. This has changed since the government decreed that hospitals are to provide medical assistance to asylum-seekers. It depends on the attitude of the paramedics too, some of them are really unfeeling, some are helpful and willing to talk the refugees into going to hospital. This is very difficult because we don’t want to separate families. That’s why it’s important that they trust volunteers.

magyarnarancs.hu: How many patients do you deal with per day?

Dávid: Several hundred. We don’t count them. There are all sorts of problems, mainly colds, sore throats, fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, but there are really seriously ill people too. Many are dehydrated, we need to put them on a drip, which we can do here. Once I saw a five-year-old boy whose feet were totally covered in blisters. But we haven’t come across any tropical diseases, there is absolutely no need to worry about epidemics breaking out. Lots of us don’t wear rubber gloves and masks when we work, (except of course when we treat serious injuries or bleeding wounds) so we can perform our tasks in a friendlier manner. We are a great help to paramedics too, we relieve them of a lot of work. Without us an ambulance would be called 40-50 times a day here, but with this medical facility functioning there is only about one case every day where an ambulance is needed.

Baba: A Syrian lady went into labour here, in front of the bakery. By the time the medical team got there, the baby was almost delivered. She was born here at the station. Our medical team assisted the birth beautifully, by the time the ambulance arrived the mother was perfectly relaxed too.

magyarnarancs.hu: Was this the lady who was discharged from the hospital five days after giving birth?

Baba: No, that baby was born in Nyugati Station (Budapest’s Western railway station – translator) The hospital workers called the police on the mother, she was taken to a reception centre where she was given new documents, then they brought her here. Hospital staff are not particularly understanding. They can’t handle the situation. Of course we know that they are not prepared, that they are scared, that hate campaigns are strong, but in a hospital they should not be concerned with religion and ethnicity, they should see the human being, the sick person, the new-born child.

magyarnarancs.hu: And how are you coping? Aren’t volunteers particularly in danger of burning out?

Dávid: I actually gain strength from all of this. I see things many others don’t get to see, I hear stories many others don’t get to hear, because they do not want to listen, because they choose to stay away and repeat the same sentences again and again, they form an opinion and they stick to it but they never come here to see for themselves. They don’t see individuals, they think of refugees as this big mass of people. I get so much kindness and gratitude that sometimes I go home happier than I came here. I feel better because of them, because they give me something to be grateful for; I don’t see them as refugees, I see them as human beings. Of course one can keep a distance, but then why be here at all.

Baba: There was a day when I couldn’t be here, and I missed it. Once you start you cannot stop as long as there is even one refugee here. Now there are so few of them, it’s so strange, so uncanny. (Friday; this interview was made on Saturday – editor) Yesterday there was this huge crowd, and now there is nothing to do. There are not enough volunteers for that many people, but we can handle it well, the key is not to appear violent and not to shout, otherwise they get scared and won’t co-operate. There was a lady doctor from the Maltese Charity Service, she usually looks after homeless people, and she started shouting at the refugees. We had to ask her to stop it and explain instead that it is in their best interest to accept medical care. You can see some Arabic writing on the walls, these mostly say you can trust the doctors, you can accept food from this or that person, you can go to this place or that, it’s some sort of a guide from them and for them.

magyarnarancs.hu: Does this mean they completely trust you? How long did it take you to establish this relationship?

Baba: It worked from the first moment. We provide the basics for them, but it is also an important part of our job to give them hope, to encourage them to trust an organisation, to trust doctors, to co-operate. They listen to us because they know we have the best intentions. It also helps that I speak Arabic, as I am half Hungarian half Egyptian.

Dávid: I have also learnt a few words in Pashtu and in Arabic. If I smile and greet them in Arabic, that’s a good start. We see them as fellow human beings, and they consider us friends. It’s very interesting to experience this great trust from the women. For example if they have stomach pains and they remove their clothes and allow us to see and examine them. Normally only the husband is allowed to see a woman’s stomach. There were girls sweating in the heat in long-sleeved tops but they would not dress lighter because they didn’t want to show any skin. Yet they let me examine their throats, even though it is an intimate procedure, it’s unlikely that anyone had seen their throats before. By the way, I have come into contact with around 18 thousand refugees, and I’ve never once been assaulted or insulted.

Baba: They protected us from the football hooligans on Friday. They lined up in front of us to keep us in the underpass area, safe from any trouble. The hooligans came and spat at the refugees but they didn’t retaliate.

Dávid: The most difficult task yesterday was to convince them to get on the buses. They were very cautious. We tried to contact people who had mobile phones and had already crossed the border, to ask them to tell others how it went and encourage them to go.

magyarnarancs.hu: They don’t trust the authorities and the government.

Baba: They are very scared. Once you abuse an Arabic person’s trust, you can never gain it again. Hungarian authorities have done that first with the sale of the train tickets, then the train to Bicske. How do they expect any trust now? I wouldn’t take my children to a camp where there isn’t even an Arabic interpreter either. I will never again ask people to get on or off trains and buses. I give them food and blankets, I let them know the options available, but I will not assist the state in deciding about their lives. Taking that train to Bicske had cost a human life. And I feel guilty because I was there when that train left, and we tried in vain to tell them to get off, we tried to tell them their tickets had not been validated, there were no conductors, there was something wrong. The train left, the refugees were smiling, and we knew the train was going to a camp. That’s not easy to forget. And that’s why I will not co-operate with the authorities. If they cancel this zone we will still be here to look after the refugees, whether there is only one, or a hundred, it doesn’t matter.

magyarnarancs.hu: Is there anything that still upsets you or gets to you after all this time?

Baba: It’s awful to hear how matter-of-factly they tell you how many people were massacred in their village, how many family members they had lost. They play with their kids all day, but at night, when you walk around and look into their eyes you see broken people who try to start every day believing it will get better. A woman told me about her child. The child drowned when they crossed the sea, there was not even a funeral, not even a goodbye. Then she arrived at a safe haven, she can recover here better than in a camp full of children. I heard a few days ago that she was pregnant again, which is great news. It is wonderful that the children who came here and who are born here will grow up free and safe. And we can help them.

Dávid: I had been working here for a few days when this guy smiled at me. He said hello, we chatted, I asked him about his life. He pulled up his trouser leg, There was a prosthetic leg there, and a raw stump under that. He said: “If I stay, I die. If I leave, I might die, I might live.”

Baba: We form lifelong friendships here. Many mothers said this was the first time in ages they could sleep properly while we looked after their children. Everyone looks out for everyone here. Before the zone was established, men formed a circle and slept there, with the women and the kids inside this circle, to keep them safe. Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist doesn’t matter. If you come here, sit down and give someone an apple, you are a friend.



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