“I have to do something myself, I can’t just talk”

Author: Bea BELICZA, Anna Viktória PÁL Original title: „Nekem is kell tennem valamit, nem csak osztani az észt”
Publication: 24.hu, Photo: Zsuzsa SUHAJDA Date: 15:18 06/09/2015

“I have to do something myself, I can’t just talk”

Civilians gathered at the Budapest Keleti railway station to invite refugees to share their homes. The guest beds stayed mostly empty this time, but they are adamant: their homes are open to those in transit, if need be.

I took a train from Keleti on Friday. At that point, the underground passage way was so crowded it was nearly impossible to move among the blankets on the ground, and the crowd was very dense in front of the main entrance too. I heard haggard Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi men complain that they are cold during the night, but there are only enough blankets and warm clothes for the women and children. Had anyone left any donation for anyone to take, it would have  caused a scuffle. By Saturday night, there were clothes and shoes standing there in heaps. The Hungarian poor also benefitted. Some used the opportunity, there were a few who misused it.

At the furthest part of the railway station, on the platform, about ten sacks’ worth of blankets, bags and other valuables are heaped up. I ask a homeless man standing around there whose all that is: I thought, naively as it turned out, that volunteers are about to take it into the pass and that they might need help. I wasn’t given a straight answer as to the owner – he only gave me insults. This, on the other hand, did give me a good idea about the owner too.

We take in refugees!

Peace Nest (Békefészek) is a non-political, voluntary civilian initiative to provide transitional lodgings for refugee families. You can join here.

I  approached the little group bearing the Békefészek logo in quite a bad mood. About a dozen people were gathering in a little street off the station, getting ready to offer their homes to refugees who do not want to spend the night in the open air.

Bence Illyés, a university student started the movement with his girlfriend. He hosted two families so far, the first comprised of 9 people. They were offering lodgings for 9 this time, too. They didn’t have any candidates yet, but a young woman already agreed to take in a family of 6. As soon as the family appeared, they started off to the host’s home. Then a couple came up:

“We can take in 5-6 people! Little ones too. We have two children ourselves.”

Although they couldn’t yet find others in need of a transitional home, the question arose what if the refugees might decide to stay longer. The organizer waves off this possibility :

“They want to go to Germany, all they want is a proper bath and a roof above their heads for the night.”

A man, his shirt unbottoned, stops by the group and asks them what Peace Nest is. The members are somewhat distrustful, they seem to be wary of refugee haters. The man, however, is not willing to leave without a satisfying answer. He starts talking about his own way of helping.

“We cooked corn for them this time, they were so happy, we always give them something. We cried so much for them.”

Those are not empty words, he starts crying. Orbán brought shame on all our heads, he says.

A woman suggest changing the Facebook group to a closed one. She would not like her acquaintances to know she is taking refugees into her home. We do not talk about the reason, rather try to think of ways to find those in need of this special kind of help.

According to Bence, the volunteers distributing donations do not have the time and capacity to help locating the people willing to move into the homes on Hungarians for 1-3 nights.

I suddenly have an idea: the employees of Muntada Aid, an English non -profit organization. The three Londoners (of Somali, Afghan and Iraqi origin) distribute pizza and, after tonight, also information on Peace Nest.

I found others distributing food, too. Everyone was ready to help, but even so, it was doubtful whether the hosts’ guest beds would be needed tonight. The trains are leaving, and everyone who possibly can leaves with them.

This was exactly what happened. There was for example a family who were interested, but they cancelled at  the last minute to board a train.

“We didn’t succeed, that’s good”

While most of the group look in the passage way for families to offer their homes to, a few of us chat at the collection point. A lady says this is her first time at Keleti, she came with her husband. She is shocked.

“It’s been much worse though. I went to give out apples on Wednesday. That was bad, and it didn’t even come close to Friday” – says another group member.

Two young women in head scarfs and two young men come up to us and ask for directions to the nearby hospital at Péterfy Street. Someone immediately offers to take them by car, but they only accept company if they walk. Someone goes with them. The others discuss why they joined Peace Nest.

A lady says, “For a long time, all I listened to was Radio Kossuth. Then I watched the news on RTL and that put it all in a very different light. There was a huge argument at home,  and then I said, it’s time to stop talking and do something”

A man came to Keleti to offer his home without knowing about the movement, then saw the group’s boards. He says it’s important to show that Hungarians are not all the same.

 “We have a lot of negative karma to work on, all the stuff the government is coming up with. The Hungarian people are not Orbán. These stereotypes are terrible. We all joke sometimes about the Germans being squares and the French liking a bounce. But of course, not all the Germans and all the French are like that.”

The prospective hosts emerge from the passage way one after the other, without anyone to take home tonight. A couple and a father-and-son team leave declaring to return another time. The leader of the group is about to give up for the day:

“We didn’t succeed, but that’s good. We are not needed because they have a free way to Austria.”

As a last try, those of us who remain  go down to the passage way. A Syrian university student interprets for us and simultaneously organizes refugees’ travel onwards. He’s been in Budapest a for day.

Young people help with free tickets

He asks us to help a group of five, who do not speak English, to get tickets. It has to be today’s train. The interpreter says there are probably no more tickets but I should sort it out somehow anyway.

I start for the ticket office with the group, rather uncertainly, when we notice a girl giving out tickets. She gives out five tickets to the men who run, without any luggage, without really realizing they were just given tickets to their desired destination. Their only goal is to get on the train now.

The Hungarian girl has distributed 20 tickets today, bought on her and her friends’ money.

Next to the train, a small family with two small babies are pondering the possibilities to get on the next train.  The girl distributing tickets soon turns up but she cannot help immediately either. Two of her group run to the ticket office. Success.

The family boards the train (scheduled at 20.10) at half past eight, but even that is too soon. It won’t leave. Further carriages are added.

The situation is slightly chaotic. People on the train get off and run backwards to the new carriages. On the platform, controversial information is circulating. Several volunteers maintain they have a right to travel free of charge, others say it’s risky even without a seat reservation. And there are no more seats available. The lady at the counter says the same when I try to buy one for a lonely boy, as quickly as possible. According to her, he can get on without a seat reservation, it’s less comfortable but allowed. And the train scheduled for 8 is going to leave at 9.

The boy, as if the ticket was for Heaven, runs for all he’s worth to the train to make sure he reaches it.

I go to the controller, trying to determine whether those without seat reservations are safe. He tries to ignore me first, then tries to shake me off with an ’I don’t know. I don’t have time for you’. I change my tone too, and finally get the reassurance: the refugees won’t be removed from the train.

Another railway employee comes up to us, and asks us to spread the information that the nine o’clock train is also ready for boarding.

The Syrian interpreter and myself go to see if there others wanting to leave today. The passage way is nearly empty now, those remaining do not seem to understand, nor do they seem interested.

A group of 4 stand around uncertainly, thy say they’d like to go but they do not have money. After a few minutes’ hesitation, a young boy asks for our help: he would like to be on the train. Another rush to the ticket office. In the end, he stands on the train, obviously struggling to believe this has just happened to him.

Everybody on the train seems carefree, as if they had already forgotten the hardships of the road so far. Among those in the window, a railway employee spots two smokers, and asks me to tell them that is not allowed. Both drop their cigarettes without objections.

A few helpers give out fruit puree in baby food jars. An English photographer, a veteran of several refugee camp reports, watches the volunteers incredulously. The refugees have had every help possible today and there will be food and drink waiting for them in Austria. He is also mystified by the volunteers stuffing the children with chocolate. Anyway, the last of the donations is on the train now. The doors are closing, the train is leaving at last. The refugees in the windows and their helpers on the platforms wave as if from now on nothing bad could happen.

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