Tag Archives: MigSzol

Who poses a danger to Hungary’s national security? Anyone who lends a helping hand to a refugee

It is hard to describe the hysteria the Orbán government has whipped up over the nonexistent migrant invasion of Hungary. Day after day, they bombard Hungarians with a relentless campaign of fear mongering. Just when I think that perhaps they have finally spent themselves, they come up with yet another salvo. The latest is their decision to ban Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP, from attending the parliamentary committee on national security, of which she is a bona fide member.

By tradition, the chairman of national security committee is always a member of the opposition. In this case, the position has been filled in the last eight years by Zsolt Molnár of MSZP. Since 2014 Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), known for his verbal attacks and boorish behavior, has served as deputy chair. On January 15 Németh announced that “those politicians who lie about the national consultation campaign and have been supporting the Soros Plan all along, as LMP politicians do, cannot take part in the discussions of the national security committee, whose task is the prevention of the implementation of the Soros Plan.” Németh charged that in the past Szél worked in a Soros-financed organization that was supportive of migrants. So, Szél was in fact a paid agent of Soros. But that’s not the only sin of  LMP’s candidate for prime minister. She had the temerity to meet with EU Commissioner Věra Jourová in Brussels, who spoke highly of George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. When asked by journalists how a member of the committee can be barred, Németh claimed that “she will not be barred,” but “in those sessions where the Soros Plan is discussed, the LMP member will not be able to participate because she holds views on the subject which are not in the interest of the nation.” I hope you understand why Németh is ridiculed for his rational deficiencies.

A few hours later Szél announced on her Facebook page that “the great thinker of Fidesz just admitted that everything I said about the Soros network is true and everything they say about it is a lie.” In an interview with 444 she claimed that the material presented by the secret services was information anyone could have picked up from the internet. Yet this material is declared to be secret. She was trying to convince the Alkotmányvédelmi Hivatal (AH / Office in the Defense of the Constitution) to allow it to be made public. Hungarians ought to know the truth, not the kind of reality Fidesz wants to present.

Since all the opposition parties, including Jobbik, announced that “this is madness,” it was thought that this particular stupidity would die a quiet death. So, when a day later, Balázs Hidvéghi, communication director of Fidesz, said that Németh’s utterance was a “political opinion,” people breathed a sigh of relief. At least László Kövér, the president of parliament, would not enlist the parliamentary guard to prevent Szél from entering the committee room. That reaction, however, was premature. Hidvéghi is a young, civilized-looking fellow whose IQ must be a great deal higher than Németh’s, but he is not allowed to utter an opinion that in any way differs from the ukase that comes from above. So, by the end, he basically supported Németh when he said that “we will see whether we will have a session [on the Soros Plan] and then we will see. This is our political opinion.” In effect, though in a mealy-mouthed way, Hidvéghi reasserted Németh’s threat. If there is a session about Soros and his nonexistent plan, “we will see” whether Szél can join the discussion.

If it wasn’t clear after Hidvéghi’s press conference that the government was squarely behind Szilárd Németh, whom Viktor Orbán finds extraordinarily useful in his propaganda campaigns, Híradó’s article yesterday, “Bernadett Szél’s expert failed his security clearance,” left no room for doubt. According to this most official government publication, “in the middle of the migration crisis” Szél nominated an expert to testify before the committee who failed vetting. The expert was born in Kabul, and before he began working for LMP, he had worked for MigSzol, “which is the most pro-migrant organization of Soros.” He was deemed to be a national security risk. Apparently, Szél appealed the decision, but Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, refused to reconsider the decision.

After this introduction came a laundry list of MigSzol’s activities, which obviously the Orbán government considers to be illegal. Here are some of them: MigSzol organized a demonstration in support of Ahmed H., the man who was sentenced to ten years for “terrorism” for throwing a rock (no one knows whether it hit anyone). During the demonstration protesters chanted slogans like “Freedom for Ahmed!” and “Ahmed today, tomorrow you.” MigSzol activists protested against the national consultation by launching boats into the Danube made out of national consultation questionnaires. During the chaos created by migrants at the Eastern Station in 2015 these activists encouraged Hungarians to give money to feed the migrants. The activists of MigSzol have been attending the trial of Ahmed H.; they inform people about the details of the court proceedings on their website; they try to defend Ahmed H. in opposition to the Hungarian authorities; they don’t hide their goal of attaining freedom for the leader of the disturbances at the Serbian border in September 2015. After all that, Híradó adds: “it is now obvious why Szilárd Németh does not want to see Bernadett Szél in the committee.”

Source: Index / Photo: István Huszti

Híradó’s article also claimed that Bernadett Szél was herself at one point in the pay of George Soros when, in 2002, she was the program director of Menedék—Mingránsokat Segítő Egyesület (Shelter—Association of Migrant Assistance. In an interview yesterday Szél told her audience that at the age of 16 she received a Soros Foundation scholarship to spend six months in the United States. That’s her only connection with George Soros and his organizations. She said that she did work as an activist for the Humanist Movement, which is an international volunteer organization that promotes nonviolence and non-discrimination. She sarcastically added that “it seems that Fidesz at the moment considers it a Soros organization.”

Today Szél gave a press conference in which she labelled press reports on the vetting of LMP’s expert an unlawful disclosure of a state secret. Szél stressed that none of LMP’s experts performs work that is not legitimate. She also said that all the employees of the party are Hungarian citizens who cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their ethnic origin.

This story is a perfect example of how easily the Hungarian authorities can label charitable organizations and protesters threats to national security. It also demonstrates that the Orbán government’s first instinct is to declare people suspect or even guilty on the basis of their national origin. Anyone—and I’m afraid there are many in Hungary—who thinks that the Orbán government’s latest “Stop Soros” campaign is not meant seriously is dead wrong. If that package of new laws is enacted, the MigSzol people who chanted “Today Ahmed, you tomorrow” were unfortunately right.

January 20, 2018

Edit Frenyó: Refugee crisis in Hungary–A Hungarian eyewitness account

As I stared into the eyes of the thirteen-year-old Mohamed from Syria standing alone one August night at the Keleti railway station – one of the thousands of unaccompanied minors passing though Hungary during the summer – I realized that the world is far more ready to mourn the death of a three-year-old toddler and far less ready to embrace the living. Thousands of desperate migrants began pouring into Europe daily over the summer. Their numbers are in the tens of thousands by now, yet as a community of nations we seem to be as far from a humane and sustainable solution as ever. However, there may be hope within the ever growing, international community of civilian volunteers. Indeed, the despair over the massive scale of human suffering I’ve witnessed since I joined the volunteer efforts has been alleviated only by the equally massive scale of humanitarian activism. It has been one of the most compelling experiences of my life, both as a human rights lawyer and as a civilian activist.

The global scale of crisis regarding displaced populations is ever growing. A portion of this crisis has been directly affecting some European countries (especially Italy, Spain, and Greece) in recent years. Meanwhile both the EU and its member states have systematically narrowed safe and accessible avenues for asylum applications. By the spring of 2015, with the ongoing escalation of multiple armed conflicts in the Middle East, unbearable conditions in local refugee camps, and no hope for effective protection in nearby countries, thousands of migrants redirected their movements, propelled by multibillion dollar smuggling networks, to the relatively cheaper though longer West Balkan route, which includes a shorter though consistently deadly sea passage. Migration experts in the past years have functioned like canaries in the mines warning of the consequences of inaction, impending humanitarian disasters and of new migratory routes. Yet this either fell on deaf ears or triggered only one response: massive securitization, by the erection of physical and legal barriers.

An exclusive focus of securitization – when unmitigated by humanitarian objectives – provides only the illusion of safety and stability. It may be a valid objective, but it must not come at the expense of gross violations of basic human rights and international norms. Unfortunately many countries – including Hungary – followed this path. By spring, the Hungarian government’s national consultation campaign consistently conflated migration with terrorism; the enormously expensive billboard campaign doubled down on the narrative of the danger of illegal economic migrants. Government politicians consistently used the terms “illegal immigrants,” “invasion,” and “threat.” They carefully avoided using the term “refugee,” even during the summer when it was obvious that about 70% of the arrivals are coming from war torn regions, mainly Afghanistan and Syria, and would therefore likely qualify for some form of international protection. Unilaterally declaring that people who merely pass through Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia are no longer refugees is a fallacy inconsistent with appropriate application of international rules of asylum. Even before the crisis, Hungary had a poor record with regards to asylum procedures. Yet proper resources were not diverted to enhance the contingency and preparedness of holding centers and immigration authorities. Although by July the number of daily arrivals exceeded a thousand, the overall capacity of holding centers in Hungary stagnated at 3-4000.  Neither was there meaningful cooperation with local representatives of UNHCR, or real intention to work on a collaborative system of processing and settlement with other countries. Granted the general lack of coherence in the EU’s response to the crisis provided Hungary additional incentives to act alone, as it had no intention of becoming the “Ellis Island” of the EU. In part this is understandable; there should have been an EU-wide acknowledgement that the Dublin III processing system is defunct. But the notion that we are protecting Europe by fencing up a part of the corridor, rejecting any discussion on quotas and clinging to the notion that no form of settlement is acceptable is absurd. The argument that if all other EU countries would do the same – thereby pushing people back into death and misery – the problem would be solved is simply cruel. In fact it’s what we’ve been doing all these years.

Nevertheless the Hungarian plan was clear: stem the tide and wait for the remaining migrants to leave. The final step of the Hungarian “solution” was the rapid erection of the fence along our Eastern borders and the series of new immigration and criminal legislation enacted over the summer and fall, cementing the barriers by eviscerating the Hungarian asylum system and making it all but impossible for the vast majority of new arrivals to register, or claim asylum, let alone enter Hungary legally.

In the interim, however, having left society and social services so ill prepared for what was to come, the stage was set for social tension and the escalation of an unmitigated humanitarian crisis. But something unexpected happened in Hungary over the course of the summer that changed the playbook, not just for migrants, but perhaps for all of Hungarian society. Thousands of people began stepping up to donate their time, talent and money out of genuine concern for the wellbeing of refugees and their fellow citizens. They became guides and guardians, mediators between migrants and society, and vital aids to overwhelmed authorities.

There were the well-known groups like Migration Aid, Let’s Help Refugees in Hungary and MigSzol, and the thousands of nameless, spontaneous acts of kindness from those who donated an hour, or a day, or their entire summer vacation to help. To give an idea of the scope of operations: Migration Aid estimated that in July and August alone, they had 500 active regular street volunteers; about 8000 group members and tens of thousands of followers and supporters on Facebook. During these two months, their work totaled 70,000 volunteer hours. “Let’s Help Refugees in Hungary” – a group that worked out of a basement converted into a makeshift kitchen – was bold enough to disregard the lack of licensing and kept providing warm meals throughout the summer. In their first 71 days of operation they provided around 30,000 portions of warm meals and over 100,000 sandwiches to migrants stuck in Budapest. To this day these groups, much like their foreign counterparts, operate primarily within the relative informality of social media networks. Daily operations and communications are coordinated on Facebook and Google. The donations are almost exclusively in-kind, to avoid allegations of misuse of funds. They represent the best of Hungarian ingenuity by having created InfoAid, an android based app to aid migrants and volunteers with live updates in six languages (Urdu, Pashto, Farsi, English, Arabic, and Hungarian). Translators are recruited worldwide. On top of that, for weeks locally and internationally situated volunteer translators and editors of the online blog Refugee Crisis Hungary combed through the most relevant Hungarian language articles and translated them into English to make the often isolated discourse accessible to the world.

Thus from the beginning of the crisis, civil volunteers have taken on tasks of migration management that should have been organized, supervised, and largely performed by government agencies: guiding the arrival and internal transit of migrants; providing immediate medical assistance, information, clothes and food. They have continued to conduct their work in the shadow of informality, constant government critique, charges of aiding and abetting migrant illegality, and the looming danger of reprisals for cutting into the business of an enormous smuggling network, by sheltering and informing migrants of their rights and advocating for safe and legal accommodations and travel options.

The Hungarian obstacle course

Upon arrival during the summer months, migrants were apprehended at the border and detained for 24-48 hours before being released with a certificate from authorities stating their name, age, origin and that they are applying for asylum and designating the holding center they must report to, generally within 24 hours. The document was in Hungarian, accompanied by a blind map of Hungary highlighting the location of holding centers in Bicske, Vámosszabadi, Győr, and Debrecen. They were to make their way on their own on time or risk violating their “duty to cooperate” with Hungarian authorities, which could have a disastrous impact on their subsequent asylum procedures, including immediate expulsion to Serbia. With the exception of unaccompanied minors, no official effort was made to transport migrants or aid or supervise their transit to centers within Hungary. By early August, unaccompanied minors were no longer properly screened or transported to the designated holding center at Fót.

Given the structure of the Hungarian railway system, the vast majority of people had to pass through Budapest, transfer trains – most often change railway stations – and continue their journey from the capital. Never mind their unfamiliarity with the Hungarian language, most migrants came from countries where Latin letters are not used. It was obvious that they were put on an obstacle course that was all but impossible to navigate. Implicit expectations were that most would give up and make their way westward instead of checking into holding centers. This behavior would match the overwhelming narrative of the “illegal immigrant” who is “unwilling to cooperate.”

At Budapest's Keleti Station

At Budapest’s Keleti Station

It was in this daily management of flows and needs where the work of volunteers became essential. Task forces from the southern border city of Szeged would send an online or text message to the appropriate train station group in Budapest on the expected size, demographics, and needs of an arriving migrant group:

  • “Watch out for this woman in the picture, she is pregnant due to deliver any minute”; “there are three children with fever, they need medication”; “prepare size 40-42 shoes for about 10 barefoot guys”; “the man in the picture is looking for his family could you forward it to our family reunification group?”

Upon arrival, volunteers would check migrants’ documentation, explain the basic legal content, attend to the immediate needs, and arrange for their transfer to the appropriate train station. Sounds simple enough? Not in reality. Families were often separated and wanted to wait for lost members before moving on; some needed rest or medical aid, which was clearly going to result in people missing the last train out. Many were sent up to Budapest far too late to continue their journey and were consequently forced to spend the night on the streets. And within a month it was obvious that people would trickle back from holding centers due to lack of space, lack of clarity as to the legal procedures as well as the wish to move on towards Western Europe as soon as possible.

By August, the three main train stations of Budapest turned into make-shift refugee camps. Though the turnover rate was quite high (population usually changed within 3-4 days) it seemed like a permanent settlement, with an unending supply of new arrivals. Entire families, unaccompanied men and boys, elderly couples, pregnant women and hundreds of children ate, played, slept, and waited for deliverance on our streets. Yet volunteer groups operated without any official logistical support from the state for much of the summer. There was also a conspicuous absence of longstanding humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross and UNHCR, as most were denied authorization or remained reluctant to join street efforts, in lieu of government approval.

So Hungarians got “creative.”

Pubs and cafés donated their spaces for storage and food-prep. Others provided access to sanitation when migrants were banned from train station bathrooms. Private citizens showed up at night to gather families and take them to their homes for an overnight stay, regardless of the status of their papers. There were specialized groups for medical aid, family reunification, and the transportation of goods and donations to wherever they were needed, including state run holding centers. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee provided constant access to legal aid and information, as did those of us lawyers on the ground. Artists, teachers, social workers turned out in droves to organize play activities for children, photographers offered to take family portraits, hair dressers offered free haircuts, musicians held impromptu concerts, and doctors and nurses as well as lay volunteers put in thousands of hours to provide medical care, including cleaning and draining infected wounds and IV-drips set up on the street for dehydrated patients, thereby significantly reducing the burden on the Hungarian health care system.

But perhaps most importantly, people committed to bearing witness and taking part in the plight of others every single day. They gave names and faces to an otherwise dehumanized mass of “illegal aliens”; they acknowledged migrants’ dignity by listening to countless accounts of hardships endured and homelands left behind; they lent a voice to the voiceless with personal testimonies even if it meant losing the support of friends and family members; they created a system of transparency by posting images and video footage that travelled around the world; and they did all of this amidst their own early fears and prejudices.

With the willful negligence of authorities, social interaction with migrants was supposed to incite only anger and frustration, or worse: violence. Yet through the commitment and courage of civilians, interaction gave way to a collective recognition of humanity as best described by a migrant’s writing on the wall at Keleti station: “The umma (community of people) is like one body, if one part of the body is in pain the whole body will feel it” – or as we Christians would say “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26).

Finally advocacy and tenacity paid off, and in mid-August authorities in Budapest were compelled to allocate official “Transit Zones” at the Keleti, Nyugati, and Déli railway stations. This included indoor spaces for the volunteers and medical staff, a limited number of toilets and showers, as well as clean water supplies. The city also provided transit buses between the three stations. This alleviated some of the pressure volunteers faced having to pay out of pocket for the transportation of thousands of migrants who otherwise were not eligible to use the Budapest mass transit services. The transit zones represented a huge victory, the first formal recognition of the civilian efforts. The sign that perhaps Margaret Mead was right: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Upon the closing of the border on Sept 15th Budapest – and gradually the country – was mostly cleared of its migrants. The last days before the closure, with masses stuck out on open fields near Röszke waiting for processing, were unbearable. The sudden closure made the well-functioning civilian mediation between law enforcement and migrants briefly impossible, culminating in the otherwise unprecedented and traumatic incidence of violence at the Horgos-Röszke crossing between a group of asylum seekers and counter-terrorism police, leaving scores injured. Now, out of sight, but not out of mind, the volunteers continue their efforts. Groups reconfigured themselves, creating domestic and cross-border task forces. They are scaling the fences by finding new routes to accompany asylum seekers, setting up stations in Croatia and Slovenia. Migration Aid is even considering taking part in humanitarian and development efforts within the refugee camps of Turkey. The work is harder and perhaps more essential than ever as winter sets in. Having joined up with counterparts from other countries, we are witnessing one of the largest transnational humanitarian collaboration in Europe’s history. While governments are playing political dodge ball with the lives of thousands of migrants, civil volunteers from across Europe are stepping up to find solutions.

But one wonders what will take the place of the “migrant,” for better or worse, in Hungary?

Looking at the dominant government narrative, titles like “human rights activist” and “civilian volunteer” have become strangely tainted over the course of past months and perhaps years. Humanitarian efforts have become politicized. The pejorative overtones were most recently accentuated by the comments of Prime Minister Orban in his recent speech on “Signs of the Times” and in a recent radio address. At best, human rights activism is regarded as naïve; at worse, as a subversive political movement aimed at undermining the “nation state.”  It is viewed as criminally complicit, alongside smuggling networks, driven by some grand conspiracy to overwhelm and destroy “Christian Europe.”

Given this climate, I cannot overstate the level of courage, ingenuity and commitment that volunteering entails. And most importantly, the love and solidarity it represents, as foundational moral principles of the Christian Europe so many leaders claim to defend nowadays.

To call civilian volunteers or the human rights activists of this crisis pawns of some grand left-wing conspiracy is both insulting and inaccurate. They in fact represent every imaginable political or religious stance or social group, from the CEO to the homeless man who couldn’t bare the sight of children sleeping on the streets at night, even though it was his daily reality. Their commitment has little to do with partisan politics. Yet this form of activism is profoundly political insofar as it demonstrates the ability to act and effect changes in a society all too often paralyzed and fearful. As of yet, grass roots organizations, civilian volunteerism, or community activism have little space or prestige in post-soviet states like Hungary. During the soviet era, there was no room for such bottom-up civic action. The state was terrified of any collective initiative it did not have complete control of and mercilessly persecuted those that tried to self-organize. This resulted in the modern day passivity and a pervasive etatism in our society, leaving fertile ground for the growth of an overly centralized governing leadership, resulting in ever narrowing parameters of democracy.

Yet if we learn to continue to march, organize, use public spaces, and act on behalf of those in need and ourselves, with half as much vigor as we did this summer, the sky is the limit.

If any good comes out of the human suffering we have witnessed, it will perhaps be that we recognize that our humanitarian intervention was in a way opposition by proxy – as the recognition of disenfranchised and vulnerable masses provided a unique opportunity for a social movement to take off.  But this must continue as outreach on the home front. There are small signs of this already with domestic outreach efforts spurring from previous migration aid related groups. In this sense this is a subversive movement – though not more than Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s was – in the sense that many of us refuse to hold the nation state as a value above human beings; or to adopt a hollow, ethnically and real-politically ordered notion of Christianity as the future of Europe, or Hungary. Rather – for those of us so compelled by faith and practice – we should advocate for substantive Christianity as the future of our moral and social-economic ordering. It is mere Christianity – as C.S. Lewis puts it – which compels us to embrace our common humanity that transcends religious, ethnic and racial lines and extends our obligations beyond the boundaries of our own religion or society. Pope Francis warned us recently of the globalization of indifference, lest we should “become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves,” as isolationist politics would mandate. Indeed Europe’s humanity and Christianity are in danger. The threat is not external. It is corrupt indifference and the comfort of cowardice within.

We now see glimpses of an opposition to this indifference, when instead of appealing to the perceived Zeitgeist of fear and prejudice as the lowest common denominator, free thinkers decided to appeal to a higher common denominator: an over-arching moral responsibility to treat the “aliens” in need as equal members of our greater human society. In other words, recognizing the true essence of the Christian ethics of love and solidarity makes us inevitably each others’ keepers. Accepting this as our new European paradigm and guiding principle of integration would ensure our sustainable development and collective future.

The better side of Hungary: Volunteers take charge

Although there are many truly depressing news items coming from Hungary today, I decided already yesterday that in order to balance the picture I would write about those Hungarians who have rallied to make the lives of the asylum seekers a bit easier. There are thousands of volunteers who under very difficult circumstances are helping the new arrivals. They are filling a void because most charity organizations, such as the Hungarian branch of Caritas International, have been conspicuously absent. The explanation is that the government didn’t ask for their help because everything is going splendidly.

According to the director of the Catholic charity Caritas, in the two camps he visited the people are fed every five hours, toilet facilities are more than adequate, there is 24/7 medical care, and the camps are well equipped to handle even small babies. All this sounds idyllic until you read some of the reports in the media about the misery of the asylum seekers and the general confusion that exists in the government-organized refugee service.

Today’s Népszabadság had an article about the strange fact that until now charitable organizations acted as if they hadn’t realized that there was a refugee crisis in Hungary. My suspicion is that they were reluctant to get involved on their own, all too aware of the Hungarian government’s anti-refugee policies. But now that they’ve been given the go-ahead signal, they suddenly discovered that they should be working alongside the self-organizing volunteers.

At the moment there may be as many as ten thousand volunteers hard at work day and night around railroad stations in Szeged, Debrecen, Cegléd, and even Pécs because the government agency handling the flow of refugees has of late been sending some of them from Szeged to Debrecen via Pécs and Budapest! Mighty strange logistics. While the socialist mayor of Szeged is helping the volunteers, in Pécs the Fidesz-led municipality is doing nothing. In Pécs, as elsewhere, refugees can stay in a small, cordoned-off area next to the railroad station. There are only a few benches where they can sit down. The volunteers are totally in the dark as to how many people will arrive on any given day, which makes their work very difficult. From Pécs, the refugees’ next stop is Budapest, where a well-organized group of volunteers is waiting for them.

A description of the work of the Budapest MigSzol (Migrant Solidarity Group of Hungary) was published by Júlia Mira Lévai, an old friend from Galamus days when we were founding members of this excellent but by now unfortunately defunct internet site. She is convinced that the visible disorganization is intentionally orchestrated by the government. The hundreds of refugees sitting and sleeping on the ground around railroad stations serves the government’s purpose. It shows the population what is awaiting them if these people remain in the country. If they were expeditiously moved into camps for registration and from there left the country in a great hurry, as they did in the past, it would be much more difficult to create a panic.

Lévai tells the story of an Afghan boy who seems emotionless. When he shows his papers it turns out that he is only fourteen years old and therefore should be going to Fót, where unaccompanied children are sent. Eventually the volunteers manage to find someone who speaks Pashto, and they learn that only one of his relatives is still alive back in Afghanistan but that he has an uncle in Budapest who has been granted refugee status. After some difficulty they locate the uncle. One success story. But Lévai learned that there are several Afghan children in Fót who are in total shock after seeing their parents being beheaded. Someone who knows the situation in Fót claims that there is no psychologist on the staff. But one can’t verify this claim because the director of the facility refuses to grant the media access to the place.

While these volunteers work day and night, a group of “Nazis,” as Lévai calls them, yells on the square in front of the Eastern Station:”We want a white Hungary!” And naturally they call the volunteers “the enemies of the nation.”

Baby boy is having a bath at the Szeged railroad station

A baby boy is having a bath at the Szeged railroad station

I read a very moving story about a teenage Afghan boy who arrived without his parents a year ago. By now he speaks Hungarian. He has been looked after by the Saint Agatha Child Welfare Service in Hódmezővásárhely. The child welfare service can look after 30 children at a time, but most of these children are in transit. They come and a few days later they leave to find their fortunes elsewhere in Europe. Some of them wait to be united with their relatives who have already made it to Western Europe. Our Afghan boy is different. He would like to stay in Hungary. He was about fifteen years old when his parents sent him off, saying, “You have to leave us so you can live!” He spent eight months in Turkey and a month and a half in a camp in Bulgaria, after which he ended up on the streets of Sofia. His parents have since disappeared. He tried to get in touch with them via the internet but had no luck. He even phoned the neighbors, but they don’t know where his parents are. “Maybe they went back to Persia,” the boy says. Now he is in a school for slower children in Szeged, not because he is slow–in fact, according to the head of the child welfare service, he is very bright–but because “they refused to admit him elsewhere.”

The thousands of Hungarians who are trying to help the refugees are joined by Pashto- and Arabic-speaking volunteers who have been living in Hungary for years. Many of them came to Hungary to study and, after marrying a Hungarian, settled in the country. By now many of them are Hungarian citizens with Hungarian-born children. They are indispensable as interpreters.

Not long ago I heard a radio interview with one of the directors of Wikipedia on NPR (National Public Radio) about the millions of anonymous volunteers who contribute to the project without any pay. Why do they do it? What is their motivation? They think their work is important. They take pride in their accomplishment. They know that they are doing something worthwhile.

It was this conversation that came to mind when I read about a young, unmarried thirty-year-old man who signed up on MigSzol’s Szeged Facebook page. An hour later he got a call: they need him. There were some rough guys who were showing too much interest in a Syrian refugee family. From his picture he looked like the kind of person who could handle them. He arrived a few minutes later and managed to get rid of the screaming men. The sobbing four-year-old girl was so grateful that she embraced his leg. As he said, “I got hooked.”