Budapest Telegraph

A few Hungarians do help migrants after all

Monday Aug 24, 2015

Zsófia Fülöp | Source: Magyar Narancs

It is estimated that some 1500 migrants enter Hungary on their way to Western Europe daily. Since late June 2015 hundreds of Hungarian volunteers give humanitarian assistance at railroad stations to the Kosovar, Afghan, Syrian etc migrants.

Summary of a lengthy interview with Zsuzsanna Zsohár, spokesperson to Migration Aid, a voluntary organization

 

Migration Aid is a closed Facebook group with some 6000 members. In Budapest the activists work in an ad hoc manner in and around major international railroad stations East, West and South. Aid activists work also in some Hungarian provincial towns: Szeged, Debrecen, Pécs, Győr and Cegléd.

To counter any accusations of corruption, the volunteers do not accept money donations, only help in kind.

Zsuzsanna Zsohár thinks that one of the motivations that keep the volunteers going might be protesting at the Hungarian government's negative campaign. "Hungarians are ashamed of that campaign. Those participating in this humanitarian work feel somewhat relieved. I consider them unknown heroes," she says.

"We regularly share accounts of personal encounters with the migrants because we see those accounts as parts of a positive public campaign.

"I wish that the detractors of our work should spend some time witnessing what we do. I'm sure they would form a more realistic picture of what's going on."

The aid activists collect donated pieces of clothing, diapers, strollers etc and transport them to the camps where asylum-seekers are held.

To protect volunteers from burning out, it's a priority to find time for discussing the impressions.

"Occasionally critics of our activities show up and harass us but police keep such incidents under control. At the end of the day both the detractors and police see that we play an important role in lending some 'method to this madness.'"

Unfortunately, to date there has been no cooperation between the aid activists and the Hungarian Office of Immigration and Nationality. Cooperation with the Hungarian State Railway is bumpy because, as Zsohár puts it: "they treat these people as a faceless mass."

Zsohár expects the Budapest municipal authorities to open transit centers at railroad stations equipped with toilets, showers, laundromats and beds for overnight sojourners. [The first such "transit zone" opened at railroad station East on August 8.]

Translation is a major challenge because few Hungarians speak the migrants' languages. Some Afghans and Syrians who settled in Hungary years before volunteer as interpreters though.

In Zsohár's view only a tiny fraction of the asylum-seekers wish to stay in Hungary. Some 1500 enter Hungary daily. The fence to be built along the Serbian border won't reduce the stream of migrants, she predicts.

Asked about Migration Aid's ties to political parties, she stresses drawing a line between the duties of political parties and civil organizations.



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