Saturday

19th Sep 2020

Hungary: Volunteers who help migrants turn anti-Orban

  • Many Hungarians have taken it upon themselves to offer help to migrants, as the government appears to sit on its hands (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Helping migrants in Hungary has inadvertently become a political protest against prime minister Viktor Orban’s government for those outraged by the country's apparent inertia on dealing with the growing crisis.

A planned demonstration on Wednesday evening (2 September) in Budapest will protest against changes to immigration laws that critics say curb basic human rights.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Hungary is experiencing a record number of refugees fleeing war and persecution from places like Syria and Afghanistan, with 150,400 migrants arriving so far this year.

The right-wing government has done little to provide basic services, but reacted to the influx of people with a series of anti-migrant billboards and has, just recently, completed a 175-kilometre razor-wire fence which runs along its southern border with Serbia to keep migrants out.

While big NGOs have steered clear of migrants, as the issue has become a political hot potato, outraged Hungarians have come together in grass-root movements, largely organised by social media to feed and clothe migrants, and help them to manoeuvre the asylum system in Hungary.

Migration Aid, a volunteer group founded in June, now has over 18,000 followers on Facebook and has a 100 to 150-strong core volunteer team, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, their spokesperson, told this website.

Other, smaller organisations are also active. Some even house jaded, desperate refugee families in their apartment, usually used to rent to tourists.

While most of the volunteers help for humanitarian reasons, it also gives a chance for them to vent their frustration with Orban’s government.

“Seventy percent of the people came here out of political outrage, basically as an anti-Orban protest,” said Marton Bisztrai, a volunteer at Refugees Welcome, an ad hoc group of a few dozen people, which has been giving out, among other basic supplies, clothes, toilet paper and babies' nappies to those in need.

They have also distributed meals three times a day to refugees since the beginning of summer.

Refugees Welcome started out distributing 180-200 portions of food a day, which subsequently soared to 500-600, and reached 1,000 last weekend. Ingredients come from donations which are then cooked for the homeless at a small community centre.

“Those who stayed on to help refugees are doing it from the heart, and they concentrate on helping, not on politics,” Bisztrai said, adding: “This movement unites people from different ideological backgrounds, this will not become a political power in its own right.”

Orban’s government has been in power since 2010, and up until this year ruled with a two-thirds majority that, along with a weak and divided opposition, critics say gave it carte blanche to remake Hungary in an authoritarian manner.

“I can’t really separate my political and humanitarian motives, but I am sure outraged by our government’s policy”, said Eszter Bruder, a garden designer, who has been volunteering for two months, as she stirs a giant pot of ayran, a cold yogurt beverage mixed with salt.

“How much money was spent on inciting hatred from the billboards to the fence?,” Bruder added, arguing that that it is not a lack of resources, but rather goodwill on the side of the Hungarian government that there is no basic help for migrants.

“Luckily the people are generous,” she adds, with a sigh.

Volunteers say the gratitude of migrants makes up for the contempt they are often faced with from fellow Hungarians.

“The fact that I’m coming here caused a conflict in my workplace and my family. They don’t understand,” said Iren Novak Nagy, who said she came to help out of her Christian conviction.

Volunteers going political

Though volunteer groups insist they want to steer clear of party politics, planned amendments to several laws caused Migration Aid to call for a protest on Wednesday evening.

“Now it is time to speak up,” they announced in their call for the demonstration adding, “today’s crisis is the result of the government’s manipulative measures and their obvious lack of a strategic approach toward the problem.”

Organisers expect 6,000 people to protest against what Zsohar called, the “criminalisation of refugees”.

The planned amendments that could be voted on already this week make it possible for police to enter any private home in case of “crisis due to mass migration”, without a court order if migrants suspected to be housed there.

The changes envisage prison sentence and expulsion from Hungary for anybody who climbs through, or damage the border fence, people most likely to be asylum-seekers.

It would also make it possible for the army to use firearms in case of handling incidents with regards to mass migration.

An EU source said European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will raise the issue of these amendments with Orban on his visit to Brussels on Thursday.

Germany takes political lead on migration crisis

Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel has said the EU must act to address the migration crisis, or Europe's "close association with the universal rights of citizens will be destroyed".

Hungary U-turn on migrant trains prompts unrest

Hungary's decision to block migrants from going to Germany has prompted chaotic scenes in Budapest, with PM Orban to meet European Commission chief Juncker on Thursday for talks on the situation.

News in Brief

  1. Belarus president puts army on EU borders
  2. US: Lebanese group hoarding explosives in EU states
  3. Russia loses EU sanctions appeal
  4. UK guidelines explain Brexit treaty-violation plan
  5. Over 10,000 corona cases a day in France
  6. Greek police move Moria refugees following fire
  7. WHO warns Europe not to cut 14-day quarantine period
  8. MEPs urge EU Council to 'finally' protect rights in Poland

Border pre-screening centres part of new EU migration pact

Michael Spindelegger, the former minister of foreign affairs of Austria and current director of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), reveals some of the proposals in the European Commission's upcoming pact on migration and asylum.

EU boosts pledges to relocate minors from Greece

Over 120 asylum seeking children and teenagers in Greece have so far been relocated to a handful of EU states in a scheme the European Commission says is a demonstration of solidarity. EU states have pledged to take in 2,000.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  3. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID-19 halts the 72nd Session of the Nordic Council in Iceland
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCivil society a key player in integration
  6. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular

Latest News

  1. Commissioner: No one will like new EU migration pact
  2. Buying an EU passport 'no use for evading sanctions'
  3. MEPs call for first-ever EU law on Romani inclusion
  4. EU to help draft Libya's strategy on border security
  5. Spain to recognise Kosovo if it gets Serbia deal
  6. Ylva Johansson on Migration and Drama Queens
  7. Does Erdoğan's long arm now reach Belgian universities?
  8. Biden threatens UK trade deal over Brexit shambles

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  2. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  4. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  6. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us