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Refugees allowed to leave for Germany

DSC_5894At Keleti Station in Budapest this evening there was a crush as people tried to board the trains taking them to Germany.  The news that they would actually be allowed to get on trains had spread fast amongst refugees and there was a huge throng.  The mood was anxiously optimistic.  Many people tugged at my sleeve and asked me to photograph them in family groups.  Some people posed with their tickets, clearly relieved to be getting away from Hungary at last. A young Syrian spoke to me about the appalling and unsanitary conditions in the camp where he had not even been able to take a shower for seven days.  He was angry and said that he didn’t want any money from anyone, he just wanted to be treated like a human being and not an animal and to remember that he and others were fleeing a war.

 

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Refugees allowed to board trains out of Hungary en masse

 

Report: Police let refugees board trains leaving Hungary | The Budapest Business Journal on the web | bbj.hu The Hungarian Police were absent from Keleti (Eastern) Railway Station this morning, thereby allowing hundreds of refugees to board trains departing for Germany, Hungarian online daily origo.hu reported today.

 

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The Scandalous Hypocrisy of Central and East European Governments

DSC_5809The EU countries of Central and Eastern Europe must show solidarity with the EU countries of Western Europe in solving the refugee crisis. It would be shameful and hypocritical not to, especially as many citizens of the “new” EU member states have contributed to changing the demographic mix in many parts of Western Europe in record time. The issue is not that these legal economic migrants are net contributors to their host economies via taxes and hard work and so have just blended in seamlessly, it is also true that by their presence they have radically altered the demographic mix to a point where the extreme right are able to harness the grumbling and discomfort of locals, magnify it and make political hay.  All the members of the EU signed up to freedom of movement when they joined and move the new member states certainly have.   But now when I hear one Central European government after the other bleating about wanting to protect their demographic integrity it makes me want to throw up.

It would of course be wonderful if ISIS and Assad could be made to behave so that the problem coulDSC_5818d be solved at the source, and we could get on with our own problems, but the horrific acts of violence committed on civilians by both sides show no signs of abating and people are flocking out of the country in search of refuge.  The countries of the European Union cannot expect only a handful of the 27 members to do all the work.  On June 19th, the leaders of Poland, Hungary, The Czech Republic and Slovakia met as the Visegrad  Group and all rejected outright the EU proposal of migrant/refugee quotas.  Polish Premier Ewa Kopacz made a big deal of the fact that Poland had granted asylum to a whole 150 Syrian Christians (non Christians were not welcome because of cultural differences).  In the meantime Germany is expecting to receive around 900,000 migrants and refugees and decided to overlook the provisions of the Dublin Regulation as this is an emergency.  Many will be sent back.  It is estimated that around 30% are economic migrants from Balkan countries which are now classified “saDSC_5804fe” by the UNHCR.  The work of processing applications and allowing people to rest in humane conditions while they are waiting is mammoth and it is obvious that it must be shared.

There is money:  in April 2014, the European Union adopted the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, representing a commitment of over EUR 3 billion for the next seven years (2014-2020). A major portion of this fund will be allocated to Member States’ national programmes to complement their own domestic budgets, which should help improve asylum systems, reception modalities, and integration policies.  (see: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e48dc56.html)

If this money is available, and surely it has been applied for, why are the conditions in which the refugees must wait so inadequate?  Is it another case of grant funding being received on the basis of well written proposals but then the money being diverted?   In the Czech Republic, refugees are hauled off trains and as they have the wrong paperwork, they are arrested and detained.  They are placed in camps surrounded by barbed wire but must first hand over their valuables, telephones and cash.  And get this:  the state deducts the cost of their forced stay from the cash that has been taken from them.  Isn’t that what the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund is for?  The Czech treatment of refugees has been called a violation of international law.  Milos Zeman, the Czech President said last week:

”I think that we should not have to accept any refugees from countries distant from us in terms of culture. It is quite different with accepting, let’s say, Ukrainians,..”

We hear a lot about Viktor Orban’s rather pathetic (but expensive) little fence but the Bulgarians have erected a much more impressive structure which has pushed even more people into the nets of traffickers who are so heartless they will literally rob desperate refugees of all their money before knowingly crushing them to death in a sealed lorry.   Pictures of Bulgarian border guards smugly standing by the fence have earned applause in the right wing press, along with suggestions to bring in the army.   And how much was spent on this fence and where did the money come from?

The blDSC_5772atant racism and heartlessness on display in countries which have joined the EU recently means that they are not doing their share in the refugee crisis and expecting the old members to take care of the problem.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Gauck of Germany met Poland’DSC_5768s new president last week and the message was that it’s solidarity time and Germany can no longer be expected to take all the load.

My vote this week goes to the ticket inspectors at Keleti station in Budapest.  The metro station opens into the transit zone where tired refugees are huddled.  I suddenly saw a group of very small children lining up to run into the arms of the burly guards who lifted them into the air until they laughed with delight then they happily gathered around them for a group photograph.  The guard I spoke to was indignant that so little was being done to help innocent children.  He had heart.

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Terri Potoczna Fussen

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A Family of Syrian Refugees at Keleti Station Budapest

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They didn’t want their faces photographed because it was too risky.  The father told us his story in Arabic with a kind volunteer interpreter helping out.  There were three children who were clearly very tired.  The lovely twelve year old daughter spoke some English, enough to say that her mother was still in Syria.  The father looked haggard and shellshocked and I wondered if he was protecting the children from some terrible knowledge.  They were cold and fearful.  They were making their way to “Allemania” but realised that they would not be welcome but there was no choice but to press on.  I returned to the station later with some warm cast-offs and the family was still sitting on the same stone step.  The girl seemed to be trying to sleep but she was crying in quiet despair.  There are thousands of people like this.  What are we going to do?

 

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Refugee Crisis in Hungary

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This evening I went down to Keleti Railway Station in Budapest to see for myself the refugees who have been camping out there on their way to reception centers in Hungary before moving on to other countries where they will get asylum. Most are from Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan fleeing for their lives and the sight of women changing babies nappies on the floor of the station made me want to cry.

Since the beginning of the crisis, over 100,000 people have flowed over the border, to Hungary, first port of call in the European Union. Hungary has been allocated EU funds to cope with the extra administrative burden of processing the paperwork for all the desperate people who are trying to transit through the central European state. Rumors abound that this money is partially being used to fund the fence which is being built along the Hungarian border with Serbia in order to keep out “illegal migrants” , dirty words guaranteed to extinguish compassion and make good premier Viktor Orban’s promise that he will keep Hungary safe from assaults on its culture. There is the feeling amongst liberals that the choice to label refugees seeking asylum “migrants” is a calculated one. The official line is that of course the country welcomes genuine refugees but not illegal economic migrants. While there may be a handful of these among the sea of miserable travelers coming across the border, most are clearly fleeing for their lives. What has escalated in the past year has been the turmoil in the Middle East, not the economic crisis.  (An interesting article about why it may be in Hungary’s interests to accept more migrants here: http://hungarianfreepress.com/2015/07/29/its-in-hungarys-interest-to-accept-more-refugees-and-immigrants/

How things have changed since the Balkan war when Hungary opened its doors to those running from the war in imploding Yugoslavia two decades ago. The government also seem to have forgotten how the Hungarians seeking refuge from their victorious oppressors after the 1956 Revolution were welcomed in various western european countries as heroes although comments on the blogosphere are full of indignant Hungarians expressing shame for the actions of their government.

There have been “anti-migrant” hate groups appearing on Facebook which has resulted in attacks on refugees and sometimes on people perceived to be “migrants”. Last week in Szeged a couple of Hungarians, one of whom had been born in Cuba, were harassed and then when the girl tried to explain that her boyfriend had Hungarian citizenship and had lived in the country since he was three years old, she was viciously beaten and had to be hospitalized.

On the other hand, when the government announced plans to build their fence and then ran a billboard campaign with slogans like “When you come to Hungary, respect our laws and culture and don’t steal our jobs”, (in Hungarian, a language which the “migrants” are unlikely to be familiar with), civil society stepped up to to plate with a counter campaign in English and raised the necessary funds in record time. Food Not Bombs in Hungary have been offering meals to the refugees since the beginning of the crisis and other NGOs like Menedek (Shelter) have been very active, not to mention many individuals who have tried to help by offering food and supplies.

Ironically, the appearance of large groups of people from the middle east, very few of whom speak any English, has improved the attitude of locals towards the indigenous homeless who were considered to be breaking the law until the Constitutional Court deemed this unconstitutional but more about the treatment of the homeless in another post…

Terri Potoczna Fussen

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