5 Things We Can Learn from the Refugee Drama at Röszke

Author: plankog Original title:  5 dolog, amit megtanulhatunk a röszkei menekültdrámából
Publication:  444.hu Date: 21:32 13/09/2015

5 Things We Can Learn from the Refugee Drama at Röszke

1.   It is much more complex than it looks at first glance

The reason why the events on the field near Röszke are so dramatic and hard to grasp is that there are people facing abstract constructions and both sides are right in a way. Is it a valid and basic human instinct to prioritize the survival and safety of your family above everything else? Yes, of course it is. Is a valid and very rational decision for a community to want to protect its borders? It certainly is.

The refugees don’t want to be registered in Hungary because according to current rules if they’re registered and move on to another EU country to settle down there, the given country has the right to send them back. The EU authorities insist on registration (and as a part of it, fingerprinting), because that is how the union currently works, countries need to know who enters their territory. And Hungary is on the EU border, right in the middle of the refugee route.

If everything functioned perfectly, these two clashing factors in themselves would guarantee a difficult situation on the Hungarian border. (Leaving now out of the picture Greece, because if everything functioned perfectly, most people would have registered there).

But things aren’t functioning perfectly. From one hand the refugees arriving to the Hungarian border haven’t been informed properly, which is increasing the tension. From the other hand those who followed the rule and were willing to register were frequently met by inhuman conditions. Hungary welcomed newcomers, among them doctors, engineers, layers, people carrying their children on their backs or pushing their relatives in a wheelchair through the border by making them spend a few nights in a freezing wilderness, then – if they managed to get on the bus – locking them in a camp where they had food thrown at them, as the legendary video from Röszke will prove. At the same time there were indeed some migrants who immediately openly refused registration, as if it was some kind of an abuse and not compliance with the EU rules which are in theory still in force.

In the meanwhile these rules are becoming more and more theoretical; there is no more consistency to speak of. The refugees see that some European borders keep opening and closing. Sometimes setting out on foot on the carriageway brings results, sometimes it doesn’t. I met a refugee who spent three days at the camp in Röszke fully cooperating with the authorities, then was transported without fingerprinting to the Slovakian border and let go. The whole European system is close to collapsing. In a situation like this, who would not conclude that their future and that of their family was more important than trying to abide by the more and more ridiculous rules?

If we saw this in a film from the perspective of a refugee family, every spectator would be cheering for them to reach their destination, even if they had to break some rules. If we were looking at in from the perspective of a policeman serving on the border, everyone would identify with the protagonist trying not to get into trouble while keeping the order. And if we faced this situation in a game of strategy, who would want to own a country which can be crossed by anyone without control? (And if we looked at this as a politician, we could only wish for it to last as long as possible because it has been the hottest topic in the media for months and there is no mention of the fate of disappearing public funds in the meanwhile.)

The situation is much more complexly dramatic than the embarrassing pictures of the breakouts, the heart-breaking photos of child refugees or the arguments ending in name-calling suggest. The current rules and the reality are certainly miles apart.

  1. It is easier to manipulate in the chaos

We’re facing a rebellion of illegal immigrants, said Viktor Orbán on Friday, and János Lázár asked the refugees a day before if ‘they would mind going to the camps please’.

Neither of the above is a lie. But both announcements massively distort the picture and certainly contribute to the mass neurosis.

Let us look for example at the disturbances at Röszke on Friday night. More than three thousand people arrived that day from Serbia, but everything went smoothly, the buses kept transporting people all day. In the evening a group of 10-15 people managed to incite about the same number to sit down in front of a bus on the narrow road chanting ‘no camp’ and ‘no fingerprints’ and the traffic came to a halt. The media was full of the latest ‘situation’ at Röszke, upsetting their already nervous viewers, while all that happened in reality was a few dosen people stopping the progress of hundreds or thousands refugees peacefully waiting to continue their journey. Yes, the unrest was caused by migrants, but the media reports, especially accompanied by Orbán’s words and the record numbers presented the whole situation to those so inclined as something much more sinister than it really was.

The quote from János Lázár is an even bigger falsehood. Yes, there are people who don’t want to be registered and try to stage resistance marches (which end by them boarding the buses after all). The majority, however, got upset at the first half of the week exactly because they were kept waiting at Röszke in vain, no buses came to transport them to the camps so they could get on with the administration and move on. At the same time they were unable to leave on their own, being guarded by policemen. The Hungarian authorities failed to engage them in any conversation whatsoever, not to mention a ‘would you mind’ style communication.

3. Sometimes one person is more use than a torrent of help

The pictures taken in Röszke at the beginning of the week moved many people who wanted to help. This in itself is good news, but in such situations unorganized help is not necessarily efficient. By the end of the week volunteers have been posting about mountains of clothing only serving to increase the chaos.

Those volunteers, however, who spent the whole week helping, did an amazing job. We met a British man, Mark Wade, who also appears in some videos taken in situ. Mark was at the collection point from the start and when we left on Friday evening, he was the one who calmly but very firmly convinced the protesters to let the buses leave. All along we saw him help the police, help refugees, keep the situation under control and generally do more to inform them than the Hungarian authorities.

It is not fair of course to highlight the contribution of a single person when there are many working continuously in Röszke, but this is a good example of only organized and committed help working efficiently.

On a personal level the same thing can be said about many policemen. Hungarian public opinion has probably never been as supportive of the police as it is these days. After the break out on Tuesday, for example, I met near the railway a policeman from Szolnok, who had a long conversation with a Syrian boy in English, explained him the rules, asked him some questions too, and in the end the boy apologized to him for causing extra work.

  1. Hungary stops existing near Röszke

While these policemen and women are doing a great job, many of them are furious at having to spend their time guarding refugees, while a few hundred yards from them the law stopped existing. On the two gas stations near Röszke in the evenings people smugglers openly go about their trade, as one of our videos shows.

The situation has since deteriorated, by Friday evening the entrance to one of the gas stations has been blocked by strongly built, bald men who refused to let anyone they didn’t like enter. The business is booming – those migrants who can make it there through the fields will be transported without registration. And there must be plenty of them, because according to a Blikk article from Thursday the head of one of the gangs earns 750,000 HUF an hour. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, there were people smugglers before (like in the case of the 71 dead in a truck). It is really bizarre though, that a few corners away from the most well-guarded field in Hungary the smugglers can operate openly and undisturbed, when in the summer Viktor Orbán himself was focusing on the fight against smugglers in his poster campaign.

Gábor Török raised the question recently whether a state that doesn’t guard its borders is still a state. It is just as important to ask the same question about a state that lets some of its areas become openly lawless.

5. Many people around the world hate Hungary these days

Despite some previous scandals, Western public opinion of the Hungarian government has not been this negative since 2010. Most Western media are also enthusiastically revile Hungary, wrote our correspondent, Péter Magyar earlier this week. But the real storm hasn’t even broken yet then – it took a barely one minute long video footage that burst into the world media and turned Hungary into the symbol of meanness and inhumanity even in the eyes of people who don’t know where Budapest is.

The tripping by Petra László and the food throwing at Röszke appeared in top reports of the largest newspapers, televisions and news portals. These are of course shameful and indefensible things. But as our correspondent says in the article mentioned above, ‘The crowd of refugees and their situation are not the only interesting things about Hungary, so are the government’s policies. As a result of Orbán’s crude campaigns Hungarian locations have become more exciting, have received a dark contour.’

The tripping and the food throwing provoked a much stronger reaction than other, much worse anti-refugee offenses. Petra László has become famous, her name is the symbol of insensitivity and nastiness, but how many of the arsonists attacking refugees in Germany (202 such attacks occurred in the first half of the year) are known by name, although their crimes were acts of premeditated evil?

The food throwing at Röszke is a shame and a scandal. But so are the cruelties of the Greek coast guards or Spanish police shooting at refugees with rubber bullets, and these haven’t provoked a similar reaction. From the other hand, the help of Hungarian volunteers, the kindness most our police displayed and their almost complete lack of brutality receive much less attention.

Western public opinion is projecting onto us some of its own bad conscience and frustration. It doesn’t change the fact that the Hungarian government volunteered for this role.

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