We ignored it, so the war came

Publication: vs.hu Date: 16/09/2015

We Ignored It, So the War Came

The most important thing is to see refugees as people, to restore their dignity, says Zsuzsanna Zsohár, volunteer and spokesperson of Migration Aid. There is no need to reinvent the wheel to solve the refugee crisis, all we need is solidarity and to take responsibility.

The twelfth week has started. Twelve is a dozen already – a lot. In 84 days about a hundred thousand people passed through our care. I’m told we can count on VIP places in heaven. I’m, however, about to descend to hell on Earth. The backpack is packed, there is band aid in it, antiseptic, some toys for babies, just in case. I should have got up at two, but only managed to drag myself out of bed at half past four. I’m about to get some coffee when I notice the message on my phone: everybody is being woken up in Röszke, the camp is being emptied out. I’m immediately fully awake, trying to decide where I’m needed most. I have till half past seven to figure it out.

This is the way each day goes now. The random generator is spinning and I keep throwing balls at it. Some balls bounce back, some roll. I might even enjoy it, if it wasn’t the matter of human lives. Not only those of the refugees with backpacks, washing up in cold water with a smile on their faces at the Keleti railway station. Our own lives are affected too, of course. When I see this huge crowd of foreigners, I suddenly feel an outsider. I see lots of people being pulled apart, without any information or even the most basic care. I’ve been accused many times during the past twelve weeks of only helping foreigners and ignoring the plight of Hungarians. I do help Hungarians, too – but that is not this dramatic. Neither the masses being helped, nor the help itself.

Here and now there are thousands walking on the motorway towards Pest. Hundreds are lost, hundreds are exhausted. Until the system responsible for them starts treating them as human beings, I have only one task – to lift them back to humanity. Give them water and apples. Exchange the wet, torn shoes to dry ones, wash and bandage the worn feet. While I keep daubing the antiseptic, it doesn’t occur to me what language the body on the other end speaks.

I see a human being who believed in something, who set out on a journey and pays with tears for every step. Their feet are split and soaked to a deadly paleness as they set out from the cornfields of Röszke towards supposed freedom.

I’m asked many times a day, what do they need? What can those people who meet them do to help? Those who have keys to return home from the rain to a cup of tea, a hot shower and a change of dry clothes. The biggest help is thinking all this through, and then acting. No, the issue is not that we need a twenty-sixth ton of men’s T-shirts brought to the Keleti railway station. When I ask myself what makes me feel like a human being, I believe that primarily it is the way others treat me. Helping another human being starts with not making a frown when coming out of the subway to cross the square among the tents.

On a personal level, the most important thing is to treat those at our mercy with dignity. Water of course is important to someone sitting in an underground passage waiting to get on the train or to someone crawling crouched towards the bars. But it is the soul which is in real need, not the body. A sense of not being humiliated, a friendly smile will give strength. The muesli bar only comes second.

Having emerged from the crowd, we ask ourselves who is responsible for taking care of ‘these’. The government, of course (?). The social net should be strong enough to be able to provide for a few thousand people head to toe without problems. At least I hope that after the next flood the authorities won’t herd the evacuated citizens onto a corn field with an apologetic gesture and leave caring for them to volunteers.

The reason I’m so shocked by the events since mid-June is not my particular fondness of “the poor Arabs.” The dismay provoked by the cynical avoidance of solving real problems has dissolved my helplessness. With the echo of my repeating ‘enough, enough, enough’ faded in my head, I decided to take action for my own sake and for the sake of my children. The cynical, inhuman, disorganized treatment of the refugees led me to believe that my own small fights exist on a much larger scale.

For a long time I haven’t thought of just how ineffectual the authorities were. We just kept making sandwiches, crammed on the bench at Kelenföld, then in front of the Nyugati railway station, and finally in the transit zone. There were crisis points all along. Events were unfolding in front of our eyes. Points at which, if anyone took responsibility would have been able to calmly rethink the whole system. What came instead were make-believe solutions and sneaky measures designed to hide the ugly truth. The controversy around the stopping trains is just the tip of the iceberg.

On the level of public administration, I don’t think it’s awkward for authorities to own up to mistakes and start again, just as on the individual level one is entitled to another go. Rolling wrong or harmful decisions into avalanches in front of us is not the best approach to damage control. Any person in a position of authority must (and should) realize that decisions bear the responsibility for the destiny of millions.

It’s time to see the human beings behind the numbers. You, me and even the person who made the decision.

I don’t believe that transporting ten or twenty thousand people a day should generate so many problems. It has been clear for months that the immigration office is low calibre for the task. But we know of people and organizations who manage to do this successfully. How many festivals, sports and other mass events take place without a problem? In 2013 there were sixty thousand people at the Kecskemét air show on a hottest of summer days. I can’t remember anyone having to crawl to their cars between cordons. One recalls it as a fun event in which quite a lot of people participated. Whereas this time, I add quietly, it proved impossible to transport five thousand people from Röszke to the border. Yes, from Röszke, which is right next to the railroad…

In one word, efficiency and human decency. And a third factor, information. This latter might be the most important one. There are many excellent translators working in this country, some for money, some as volunteers. It has been obvious from day one that the lack of information is the greatest banana peel of the current situation. Of course we would first need a system of organization of which humane humans would like to inform others. Which immediately leads us to the question of whose problem this crisis is: Hungary’s, the Balkan’s, or the EU’s? I quite resolutely dare to say that it is not.

When I was a child or maybe a teenager, the TV was full of the war in Afghanistan. I loved watching it – not the gunshots, but the landscapes visible in the reports. I could not have imagined mountains like that before. And this pretty much exhausted what war meant to me – shots, people hiding, running crouched, with dirt and an unfamiliar expression of determination on their faces. The war was far away, instead of the shots I could only hear the sound of the number fourteen tram outside.

Then the Yugoslavian war broke out. It was very close, we were very scared. We tried to help, the NATO arrived to bomb. Then Janika, the first hand-holding love of my life sent me tons of SMS messages from K-FOR and S-FOR and I answered him on ICQ, also for free. He was far from the action, and they took care of one another, so he came back, got married and built a house. The war was far away, and now, as if a plug had been pulled from a tub, people set out. Every face is silently screaming: there is a war going on in the world.

We tried to ignore it, so war came to us, showing us its human face. This is what people running from bombing look like.

The heralds of war are standing in long queues in Izmir to cross the sea with better or worse luck and to brave the Balkans. Tens of thousands of them. The supply has been cut for now, because the Turkish-Syrian border has been closed again. People crossing, sailing, walking. They might not even know where. Hoping that someone awaits them. Marching on the highway holding on for support to Merkel’s name, pushing the strollers in a trance imagining a better, peaceful future. The heralds of war are knocking on our door.

The house is full. It is full of Syrians, Afghans, and Pakistanis. We have to do something. In this story, responsibility crops up frequently, as a word. Syria and the war that has emerged on multiple fronts from the previous trying dictatorship is a collective responsibility. An international one. The 193 members of the UN united for taking on exactly this type of a responsibility. There is no need to invent new solutions. The system exists, we only have to use it.

It is irresponsible to wait for the refugee to reach the border and to let them beg there crawling on their stomach for the status that is in itself already humiliating.

It is a different question that when it comes to my children, I will do anything for any anyone. But there would be fewer children in danger in rubber boats and fewer people would lose their dignity if representatives from all 193 nations queued up outside of shooting range right there to start the evacuation of the most vulnerable – children, women, families. The ill, the injured. We are responsible for each other.

I’m sure it wouldn’t take a week to work out a fair quota system in proportion to population, size, GDP and humanity on the basis of which countries could take in any number of people in an equitable way. Perhaps five million. Or ten. The emphasis is not on the numbers, but on finally assuming responsibility.

Another component of a responsible collective system is equal treatment. When I stand in line in the canteen and there are three meals to choose from, of course I’ll take the one with cake. This is why those who have even just a half percent chance to reach Germany will not want the Hungarian immigration system. And many of them do have a chance. We made sure that they do. Yes, there is a point where national sovereignty is superseded by humanitarian solidarity. But I have some good news. Someone with solidarity won’t perish on the roadside, surrounded by barbed wire.


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