Xpat Opinion: Migrants Seeking Home Show Hope At Keleti

  • 2 Sep 2015 4:00 AM
Xpat Opinion: Migrants Seeking Home Show Hope At Keleti
By Liz Frommer: Over 2,000 immigrants packed Budapest's Keleti railway station this past Sunday night, a stark reminder of Europe's current immigration debacle. Mostly hidden under the main square, the juxtaposition of the hundreds of families stranded in tents, hungry and worn, with the luminous facade of Keleti's 19th century station was eerie. Strewn about this vast passageway leading commuters from the metros and buses to the station, as well as from one side to the other of the square above, there was barely room to walk as migrants slept, ate, played, and bathed everywhere. And then there were those who just sat and stared.

Click here to see a photo gallery

Most we spoke to were from Syria, but many hailed from Iraq, Afghanistan, and presumably other countries as well. Three teenage boys we came across were thrilled to be there, squalid conditions and all. Making the peace sign, one of them repeatedly asked us to take his photo; they were all on their way to Germany and positive they would be there soon.

The father of a family laying asleep on the ground told us that they could not go to Germany; crossing his wrists together and pointing up towards the station, he wanted us to understand that were they to depart on a train, they would be arrested. No one could leave.

Looking around, there was a horrible amount of sorrow and desperation but also an incredible feeling of hope. Boys played soccer, girls were doing each other's hair, huge smiles on their faces. An entire area of the station had been set aside for drawing, with crayons, pens, and paper having been largely donated by Hungarians, everyday people.

Zsuzsanna Bozo from the Scottish Pub Caledonia and its charity arm, Caledonia Social Bite, were strong supporters of this. Ever-present on the immigration scene, Zsuzsanna and others have worked hard to ease the migrants' suffering and help bring joy to the children through a series of activities.

To see more of Zsuzsanna's work, visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1481945955460718/

Any and all help is sorely needed as the Migration Aid office itself is clearly understaffed and overwhelmed though they do all they can. One baby we saw who was seemingly unresponsive in its mother's arms was tended by medical staff immediately and taken away for care. The family told us that the baby would be OK. Volunteers were and had been present handing out food, treats, whatever they could to help alleviate the situation though clearly much more was needed.

Then we came across two Syrian men looking as by-standers, nicely dressed. Confused as to if they were with the migrants or not, they informed us that they were Syrian and had arrived here that day, yes; but they were staying at a hotel across the street. They had just come to see what was going on. They themselves had experienced a harrowing escape, paying what they called “Turkish mafia” for the boat which transported them across the Mediterranean. Back home in Syria, the men told me that there is only destruction.

“They come and bomb all of the neighborhoods; they want nobody to live there,” we were told. They said that the land is essentially being cleared, often with chemical warfare, with the backing of Iran, Bashar al-Assad's ally and main source of funds and support at this point. These men claim that Iran wants to step in and take over. But they also cited terror and violence at the hands of ISIS as well. Clearly the civil war and resulting power struggle which has ravaged that country have made it a place for no one to live. These two may have some funds for now, but will need a job soon.

At that moment cheering erupted from above where some had been hanging over the ledge. A crowd made its way toward us chanting and holding signs. Growing in size, they passed by us and then stopped, turning to face the gathering cameras. They were demanding that Germany help them. One young man stepped up to repeat their demands for access to the country within which they sought a new life. A little girl, perched on top of one migrant's shoulders, held a large piece of paper bent over but with the word “HELP” still visible.

It was then that we noticed one individual man sitting all alone. He looked a bit forlorn, but otherwise normally dressed, sitting atop what were his possessions, all hidden under blankets. He was an Iraqi Christian fleeing persecution in that country. “If you are Christian, you die,” he bluntly stated. His family had remained back in Iraq until he could settle in and find work somewhere else.

“Any country” would be good he told us; it did not matter where, just somewhere else. But most all here were seeking refuge in Germany and were awaiting the ability to finally leave on a train to that country.

Just the next day, on Monday, migrants were allowed to finally go on their way with Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel stating, "If Europe fails on the question of refugees, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it won't be the Europe we wished for." A bright light for a very bleak situation indeed. Unless immigrants have already sought refuge here in Hungary or elsewhere, they will also not be sent back to their EU country of entry, another groundbreaking shift and welcome news.

Germany will for now take as many immigrants as possible and provide them with free housing, language courses, stipends for children, and other benefits to help them on their way. It is as masterful as it is humane. And as for those seeking to lash out at those newly arrived, such anti-immigrant behavior will not be tolerated.

It is a well-known though seemingly ignored fact (at least by the far-right) that Germany's economy will need migrant workers for several decades. The Bertelsmann Foundation actually put the number in the hundreds of thousands this past March (https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/en/topics/aktuelle-meldungen/2015/maerz/immigration-from-non-eu-countries/).

Back in Hungary, the environment is far from such an inviting perspective. And talk now surrounds Orban potentially taking a more aggressive and militarized approach at the border fence here. But with Germany opening its doors, and migrants able to move along, what really is Hungary's issue with letting these people in?

One thing which was clear Sunday evening, is that they have no desire to stay in Budapest nor anywhere within Hungary's borders. “Stay here, Hungary, jail!” one man stated emphatically to us. The Christian Syrian who had been open to any country where he could live free of persecution answered in response to our question regarding his desire to stay in Hungary, “No, no,” the man smiled, waving his arms away to somewhere else. “Not Hungary, other country.”

These people are fleeing war, terror, hunger, and homelessness. They have lost family, children, homes, and much of their hope. Merkel has done the right thing in bringing them on in and promoting support, assimilation, and a future for both these people and her country's economy. The least Hungary can do is provide some initial aid and decency as they first find themselves here in shatters on the doorstep to the region they hoped would bring them a new beginning.

One women helping a young mother with an ill toddler in her arms, exclaimed, “I am a journalist.” Another man drawing an architectural piece and refusing to let his photo be taken, betrayed an obvious talent with a pen and line. And another we spoke with was a mechanical engineer. These are human beings with skills, education, and dreams. Not animals.

Leaving back down the escalator to Metro 4, a few children were mischievously running down the up-escalator (a fantastically fun activity I had amused myself with when young and have let my own children do when no one is looking!). However, one little girl was particularly tiny, maybe 3 years of age, and we tried to get her back inside the main area. She refused to stay, immediately running back to play with a giggle as soon as we had set her down.

This little girl, happily playing in the face of destitution, bore a poignant message: There is no stopping these people's spirit. And good for those countries who are able to use it to their mutual advantage.

: Space needed for immigrant donations

Zsuzsanna Bozo from the Caledonia Social Bite is in need of a centrally located space (venue) to act as a donation centre. Given the amount of donations coming in, the space would be needed over the next few weeks, possibly a few months. Size needed would be 150-300 sq meters, somewhere central, preferably with easy travel to Keleti -Nyugati. The stations themselves do not have enough room.

Please call Zsuzsanna at +36-30-433-6088 or text her on Facebook. Thank you.

Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Frommer. To republish please contact Liz by clicking here

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