A (VERY) BRIEF SYNOPSIS
The current refugee situation in Hungary is long and complex, but I’m going to attempt to at least give a brief summary of events as I’ve come to understand them through my work with the Reformed Church in Hungary. Please keep in mind, though, that I’ve only been here for three weeks and I am merely scratching the surface of what is a vast and complicated tide of events.
Migration is inevitable, but in a country such as Hungary, who has never dealt with immigration on such a large scale as they’re seeing now, the effects can be debilitating and polarizing for its citizens. Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, people have been migrating in ever larger numbers towards Western Europe, passing through some Eastern and Central European nations to do so. For the most part, however, these migrants and refugees were unnoticed by the general Hungarian population until quite recently.
It used to be that when persons seeking refuge crossed Hungary’s borders, they were shuttled by the government to refugee camps, family service centers, or other institutions in Hungary that could help them. In the last six months or so, however, the government has changed this and refugees are now responsible for finding their own way to agencies within Hungary that will help them. Before these changes were made, very few ordinary Hungarian citizens even saw the refugee population that made its way through their country, but now that the government has taken a harder stance on migrants of all kinds, the faces of these people have suddenly showed up in the everyday lives of Hungarians: at their bus stops, walking along their roads, and seeking help from non-profits in the area.
At the same time that these legal changes were happening, more and more migrants were making the trip to Western Europe for a variety of reasons. Funding in refugee camps in Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon is dwindling and the living conditions are unbearable for some who have been stuck there in limbo for years. These conditions, coupled with a general sense of frustration from those living there, meant that people felt as if they had nothing left to lose anymore – and so they left the camps and took what they thought was their best chance for a happy and healthy life: making the journey west. Smugglers and traffickers took advantage of this general feeling of unrest and had ˝sales, ˝ driving down the price to journey westward and making this course of action even more enticing for those in refugee camps.
And so they came in droves through Hungary, desperate to make their way to other countries in the European Union who would welcome them. The Hungarian government, in a political move meant to rally support behind a party, and a leader, who was losing support, took a hard stance on these displaced persons and made xenophobia their rallying cry. The government made crossing boarders more difficult, refused to let migrants continue on their journey west at one point, and has even changed legislation to make it more difficult for those who do make it to Hungary to gain status legally. The sad thing is that these political ambitions built on condemning ˝the other˝ have worked – over the past three months the Prime Minister’s approval rating has gone from 28% to 43%, a huge jump compared to other political parties in the arena. A media campaign, put in place by the PM and his government, debuted in the spring warning Hungarians of the dangers of these unwanted migrants: they will take your jobs, they are not good Christians, etc. A survey was also sent out to all Hungarian households filled with leading questions about the dire, and unwanted, situation of migrants by the state. With these propaganda efforts in full swing, the government took advantage of public opinion and has now closed off all of Hungary’s borders, making it near impossible for anyone else to come through seeking refuge.
The overwhelming weeks of refugees stuck at train stations in Budapest from this summer are gone, replaced now with a general sense of unease as the Hungarian government, and its people, try to figure out what to do with those migrants who have made it to their country in the last five years. The organizational structure of how one goes about getting assistance from the state has completely changed and is not being communicated well to those who need to hear about it. Due to this increasingly complex and confusing system of gaining state assistance, many migrants who have already been granted status in Hungary are getting frustrated and leaving, hoping that the next nation they reach will be more welcoming. Those who continue to stay are facing an uphill battle to get assistance with language classes, finding housing, and getting their children into schools; the information that is so vital to these people is not readily available which is causing a general sense of frustration and disenchantment towards their host country for many people.
The Refugee Ministry of the Reformed Church in Hungary is doing all that it can to help those refugees still in Hungary who are facing such a challenge. An NGO offshoot of the church, Kalunba, has an official agreement with the government of Hungary to help with the resettlement and integration of these people, but this cannot be done without grant money from the state and from the European Union. As of yet, these funds have not arrived, and so vital tasks like assisting with housing and providing Hungarian language teachers is a struggle for the small non-profit.
Hungary is no longer in a state of immediate crisis in dealing with refugees, but the effects of this past summer continue to be felt by many. As the faces of these refugees fade from view, the feelings of hostility and distrust that were spurred on by the government have stayed. If the government of Hungary is truly interested in being a part of what the PM calls ˝Europe’s Christian identity˝ then they need to begin by helping those who are ˝others˝ in their land. You cannot claim to follow a religion of love and justice and at the same time hold up your hands to keep all those who need aid at bay. Like it is said in Leviticus 19:34,˝ You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love [them] as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God.˝