2015. október 13., kedd

Tuesday, 13 October, 2015, 10:08

The last two weeks were rather busy in all respects, this is why I had no time to update this blog.

On 2 October we made a quick trip to Hegyeshalom again. We had 2 vans this time. Our vehicle was full of clean blankets that had been used in Röszke in the height of the chaos there in August, some volunteers later collected and shipped them back to Budapest, and got them cleaned. It was one of Anna's Migration Aid contact who stored them in her house in Budafok until I lifted them. The other van was driven an by a hilarious Romanian gentleman, Valentin and his Northern Irish wife, Lindsey. They brought survival packs, drinks and food. Yulia accompanied me this time. The trip was rather uneventful, we arrived in Hegyeshalom in the evening, didn't see any refugees as they were expected at midnight. We unloaded the vans, talked with the volunteers and returned.

The following week, starting on 5 October was rather hectic. Earlier I had delivered a vanful of clothes to Anna's place to Érd. She had the patience, time and stamina to sort and select them with Rachel in her basement. She did several shopping trips that week: food, muesli bars, bananas, bread, biscuits were purchased as well as socks and 60 pairs of brand new shoes from Decathlon. She also managed to find a contact in Northern Croatia, in Osijek. Finding the time for the delivery was rather troublesome, we planned the journey for Friday, but we only managed to go on Saturday afternoon with the food, clothes and shoes.

Our contact in Osijek was Elvis, which gave me a special delight. Since his tragic death in 1977, I had tended to side with the pessimists, saying the the King was gone forever, this is why I was somewhat taken aback when Anna forwarded me his address and Croatian mobile number. Naturally, my hand was slightly shaking when he returned my call.The famous deep voice is gone, as is his gentle Tennessee accent, instead it sounded like younger man's voice in a typical Slavonic, Eastern European accent. Nevertherless, the King was excited to hear about our coming and was looking forward to meeting us soon. Needless to say, the excitement was mutual: how often does a simple Hungarian have the chance to encounter with the singer of Heartbreak Hotel?

The M6 motorway was virtually empty, we reached the Croatian border in no time, at the border crossing station we had the chance to wonder at the inherent beauty of the latest sign of the infamous Hungarian hospitality: the 3-metre-tall fence combined with bladed wire. You should know though, that the Hungarian Government has been forced to look for a new supplier, as the German company supplying it so far refused to sell any more wire to Hungary, saying that their product was against criminals and was not to be used against innocent people trying to save their lives. I respect them for saying that, especially because they lost a 500,000-Euro business with this brave stand.

The pride of Hungary

On the Croatian side we met a 10-bus convoy full of refugees heading toward Hungary.

We arrived at a small town house in the outskirts of Osijek at 4.30 in the afternoon. A lovely young lady received us, saying that Elvis would join us in a few minutes. My palms went moist with anticipation. It was a pleasant surprise, obviously, the King had undergone a series of facelifts, and had managed to deal with his drug problems as well. The black hair and the make-up are the things of the past. He was now a friendly, handsome, bearded young man in his late 20s, his job was to coordinate the work of the volunteers of the nearby Opatovac refugee camp as well as doing night shifts when the paid workers are not on duty. So when refugees arrive at the Serbian-Croatian border at Bapska, they are taken to a camp with army tents in the town of Opatovac, then taken to Tovarnik from where they are bussed to the Hungarian border. The tents are cold and the refugees are given pre-packed food rations from the country's emergency reserves. There is basic medical care, but not enough clothes, shoes and food rich in energy. Rejoicing over Elvis successfully reinventing himself, we parted with our Croatian host with friendly promises of meeting again soon.

Our gifts unloaded in Elvis' storage room
On the way back we made a detour to Beremend crossing station to see the situation there. We were held up for over half an hour as the convoy we had seen previously had just reached the border. The refugees were sitting on the bus looking in the gloomy afternoon rain. On the Hungarian side we passed the tent of the Hungarian Interchurch Aid who were putting out water and apples for the refugees.

As the mediahype about refugees is slowly calming down, we are inclined to think that the present situation will soon be over, I myself was thinking that soon I should return the van to Roelof, and turn my attention to other things. It was a kind of surprise then when Anna contacted me yesterday at midday that an urgent delivery is needed to Hegyeshalom, to the Hungarian-Austrian border. One would think that Hegyeshalom is the place where assistance is needed the least, as refugees are just about the enter the Canaan, called Austria, Unfortunately, this is not the case. As I undertook to to do this delivery last night, I had a little chance to chat with the enthusiastic volunteers of Migration Aid Keleti, who filled up the van with water, cheese, bread, biscuits, bananas, apples, milk and clothes. I was told that even Austrian volunteers tend to come over for supplies to the Hungarian side, as the people are coming in such large numbers, that it is getting ever harder to meet their needs. Seven trains arrive at the border every day, each loaded with at least 1000 refugees, who haven't eaten for over 15 hours. Once they are put on a bus in Croatia, they are given no supplies, and when they are hastily herded over to Hungary at the border there is no chance of getting any refreshment, not even for those who have money, as the police does not let them stop at the kiosk. On the Hungarian side the are to board the trains as quick as possible, and volunteers are not always allowed to contact them. Even if they are, this is limited to allowing the volunteers to hand food in through the train windows. The other problem is that the toilets are often closed on the trains, and I would leave it to your imagination what a train might look like after 1000 people spend over 12 hours and they are denied toilet facilities...

I hate bending...

I was received with relief in Hegyeshalom and was told that the supplies I had brought would certainly get them through the rest of the night. What about tomorrow? Nobody knows...

After this quick, unexpected trip I got home at 1.30 in the morning, fully convinced that this crisis is far from being over. Moreover, it is getting worse. Last night it was 2 degrees celsius at Hegyeshalom, just over frost point. I was told that more and more people, especially the children are sick. The enthusiasm and supplies of Germany and Austria are beginning to be running out. It is getting harder to house the people.

This is not the time to think about quitting. We need your support more than ever.

2015. szeptember 26., szombat

26 September, 2015, Saturday,  17:44

Dear Friends, 

Just a quick update of the main events of main the events of the past week. In the international press Hungary has become a kind of pariah because of our harsh treatment of the refugees.

“Hungary is working against the human rights that are the foundation of the European Union.” said Karl Gustav Hilding Hammar, former Archbishop of Sweden,

Pointing out that Jesus Christ himself was a refugee as a child, Hammar says “every human being is created by God with certain rights and values” and that you can “see God in every person . . . That means that if you build walls and are hostile against fellow human beings, you are also in a way acting against God in those persons.” (from the Budapest Beacon)

Polling companies also published the latest opinion surveys of political party preferences this week. Analysts agree that as a result of the "firm" treatment of refugees, the popularity of the governing FIDESZ party is on the rise again.

Refugees are now gathered at several points at the Croatian border and transported by train to the railway station of Hegyeshalom, near the Austrian border. From there they are escorted by Police and walk a few miles over to Austria.

Hungary was forced by international pressure to lift the barbed wire from the Slovenian border.

Earlier this week Rachel did a terrific job: she spent HUF 168,000 on bananas, water, cheese, breadrolls and muesli bars. She then went on to put together 500 food parcels.which we loaded onto the van on Friday afternoon. From Rach's place I drove to the Keleti storage place of Migration Aid and put in some sleeping bags, tents, raincoats and umbrellas, then picked up Anna in Érd.

It was raining cats and dogs as we hit the road in the Friday afternoon traffic. We originally wanted to go to Beremend on the Croatian-Hungarian border but Anna got tipped off by a friend, saying that the Beremend area had been sealed off by the army and was not accessible. So we decided to head for Hegyeshalom, where we arrived late in the evening. It was bucketing and the railway station was deserted, but we found a small group of resting policemen who told us that a large group of people had left the station a while before and were heading for the border. We followed their route and found a long, sad crowd walking on the bycicle path to the old border crossing station. They all had turned their heads down to protect their faces from the wind and the rain. It was pitch dark but in the light of the car's headlights we could see that many were wearing shorts. Most children were being carried and there was somebody in a wheelchair. A man was riding along the crowd on a battered bycicle and was shouting in a loudspeaker in English and Arabic: "Go,go, go! You will soon be in Austria. It is only 2 kilometres to the border! Go, go, go!

We passed the marchers and shortly arrived at the old border station where a previous group was just leaving. Rachel's sandwiches were loaded on a counter to be handed out right away, by Slovakian, Palestinian and  (yes!) Filipino volunteers. The clothes and blankets were taken to the former offices of the Customs  where big buckets were placed under the leaks on the roof to gather the dripping water. The group we had passed arrived in the meantime, there was big  noise, people running up and down and confusion. I helped with unloading the van but Anna quickly disappeared with the children; she was busy finding dry coats and socks for the little ones as well as baby carrier and pram for the babies. Socks, both for adults and children were especially hard to come by, and everyone's feet had been soaked. There were several very small children with hypothermia, they were quickly picked up by an ambulance car from the Austrian side. Again, I am ashamed to say that Hungary was only represented by a handful of volunteers and a few Hungarian Red Cross logos on a shade and the coats. After the group passed the hotspot, Anna and I realised there was not much we could do as the next group was expected to arrive around midnight, so we soon got in the car and arrived home shortly after midnight.

2015. szeptember 19., szombat

Saturday, 19 September, 2015, 21:06

A visit to Tovarnik, on the Serbian-Croatian border

The whole thing was started by Roelof by generously offering a van from his company with a fuel card. As I spend most of my time outside Budapest, it was Anna, with contacts to Migration Aid, who booked me in for a trip. As the Keleti Railway Station base of Migration is to be emptied, the volunteers decided to take the supplies either to Tovarnik, a border town on the Serbian-Croatian border, or Beli Manastir on the Croatian-Hungarian frontier. Please see the map.

 We started loading the vans with canned food, bread, bottled water, yoga matresses, blankets and sleeping bags.

 The loading was finished by 6.30, but it was not until 8.00 that we could depart. The reason for this was the information, or, rather, the lack of it. The best word to describe the present refugee crisis is “chaotic”. We received all kinds on information all afternoon and it was the leader, Málna's job to make a decision. She was an energetic young woman who had a contact everywhere. After the closure of the Hungarian-Serbian crossing point at Horgos-Röszke and the violent clash between Hungarian police with the refugees, the flow of the people turned in the direction of Croatia earlier this week. This caused the accumulation of people at the Serbian-Croatian border crossing point of Tovarnik. From there they are bussed by the Croatian authorities to various Hungarian crossing points: Beli Manastir, Letenye and Gyékényes. We also received reports of people taken by train to Magyarbóly. After endless rounds of phonecalls, we decided to head for Magyarbóly, but we were later redirected to Tovarnik. A Spanish volunteer, Pablo came to ride with me.  We arrived in Tovarnik after   midnight and found a heartbreaking sight: hundreds and hundreds of people lying on the tarred road leading to the railway station, guarded by Croatian police. Every now and then they were joined by another group of new arrivals escorted by a policeman. Weary, deadly exhausted people, with many fathers kneeling, trying to rock their little ones. We heard the sound of children crying from everywhere. People were lying on towels and covered themselves with their jackets. We loaded our water and bread into big carrier bags and went around and handed them out. All we heard was a faint, humble “thank you”. After several rounds we loaded ourselves with blankets, walked out, handing out blankets and covering up those sleeping. I was deeply moved by the meek, thankful look in the eyes of the people, the husbands, who always passed the bread and the water to their wives first. There was a quiet gallantry about them...

We also managed to get through to the railway station where we found another large group people: sleeping bodies covered the platforms and the tracks.

When running out of supplies, we always tried to give blankets to small children first. Then we heard the man from under the tree, laughing, trying to cry like an infant: “I am a baby!”
He is a baby...

At around 3 AM I bumped into Steve Johnson from Danube Church. Quite an unlikely place and time to chance upon a friend.
At 4 o’clock in the morning about ten buses arrived and the police lined the people up and made them board the buses by twos. They stood meekly and humbly, waiting for their turn. Are they really the enemies of our country and culture, that the Hungarian Premier was talking about? It was moving to see a man herding his four wanes and carrying the sleeping fifth one on his shoulder. There was no mother around with them. 

The sleeping beauty on daddy's shoulder

There was a “closed group” of 37 people and the Croatian police officers went out of their way to make sure that there is a separate bus for these people. Unlike their Hungarian colleagues, these Croatian officers were quite smiley and warmly welcomed us, volunteers, and their attitude to the refugees was also very civil.
After emptying the rest of our supplies to the storage of a Czech-Polish-German group of volunteers, we hit the road back to Budapest.

Queuing for a slice of bread and jam at 4 in the morning

Ten kilometers after Tovarnik we were waved off by two smiling middle age policemen, who saluted, apologized in German for not speaking in English, and asked to see the hold of the van. After making sure the vehicle was empty, they saluted again and gave us a friendly wave of goodbye.

2015. szeptember 15., kedd

15 September, 2015, Monday, 10:45

Dear Friends,

The border has been sealed. Since midnight no refugee has entered Hungary, at least not that we know of. The fence has been damaged at several point but the army is there.

The media was full of Hungary's awful deeds last week: a  Hungarian camerawoman attacking a father carrying his child, police throwing food at refugees like to monkeys in a zoo, and the The Guardian simply called us awful. 

In my opinion, Hungary is now repeating its own mistake committed in 1944: not helping the Jews.

This time it is the refugees. Once again, as a nation we failed the test of humanity, let alone 

Please visit the following site to get up-to-date, balanced information about the near future: 

Refugees arriving at the Greek Island of Lesbos.

2015. szeptember 12., szombat

12 September, 2015, Saturday, 13:34

I received these lines from an American official last Monday:

"Refugees in Hungary and Budapest in particular are getting wide coverage in the US media.  How is this impacting the normal life functions and business there.  Are the religious groups responding to the crisis?  How are the European governments responding?    Do you and your family have to take precautions with any associated crime or violence.  Also I meet routinely with members of the House and Senate and their staffs.  I will be in DC the week of 14 September and will meet on the Hill on 15 September.  An Eyewitness update would be useful.  Is there a role our US government should be playing, that they are not now, that will enhance European security.  Thanks for any thoughts you can provide."

My answer as eyewitness

Just a little political background: After the devastating failure of a more or less Western oriented socialist-liberal-neoconservative government elite in 2010, the present FIDESZ party's right wing government came to power with a landslide victory as a result  of protest votes, they held over two-thirds of the seats of Parliament. This enabled them to rewrite the Constitution to their liking, and to gradually dismantle all the democratic institutions developed in the past 20 years. Hungary no longer has independent central bank, prosecution and courts are government-controlled, the press has been intimidated. Their style and narrative resembles that of the fascist period of the 1930's that ended with Hungary entering World War 2 alongside nazi Germany and declaring war even at the US despite several warnings from American diplomats. So the present sentiment and public discourse here is definitely anti American and anti EU, despite the billions of Euros being poured in the Hungarian economy by the European Union. By now Hungary is led and controlled by a small circle of oligarchs belonging to the inner circles of Prime Minister, Victor Orban. Politically the government is quickly losing ground to the truly far right JOBBIK party, with genuine nazi political narrative.

Earlier this year the Government run  costly and highly efficient anti immigrant campaigns, calling refugees economic migrants and associating them with crime and terrorism, none of which are true.

In this climate started the influx of refugees primarily from war-torn  Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. These refugees are people who managed to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey and walked across Greece, Macedonia and Serbia, reaching the border of Hungary in an absolutely exhausted condition, with many women and children. Many of them have foot sores from walking, diarrhoea and cold as well as dehydration and malnutrition. Upon crossing the Hungarian border,  refugees are met by police and are taken to detention points where they are held in dire conditions, with hardly any food or water, often no shelter and little or no medical assistance. They are often held at these detention points for over 24 hours. From the detention points they are bussed to registration points where they should be fingerprinted, which is a deadly slow process as the Hungarians' IT systems are badly overloaded and they regularly crash.Then they receive a solely Hungarian information sheet telling them which refugee camp they should report to within 48 hours. Thus the major railway stations were full of thousands of unfortunate hungry people looking for their way, not speaking either Hungarian or even English.

The Hungarian Government' only response to the current refugee crisis was to hastily set up a barbed wire fence alongside the 175 km long Serbian-Hungarian border, this project will have been completed by the end of September.  Using the support of the nazi JOBBIK party, they also passed new legislation, criminalising illegal border crossing and punishing it with as much as 3 years in prison. They also extended police powers, authorising police to enter even private homes without warrants in the search of refugees. This unhuman new legislation will come into effect on 15 September. 

The presence of the new fence however did not make the Governments' dreams come true, refugees are coming in numbers greater than ever, often several thousands a day. The efficiency of the new legislation is also questionable.

This situation quickly developed into a humanitarian crisis, and the Government, major Hungarian churches as well as the Hungarian Red Cross are practically doing nothing to ease the suffering of these people. As these organisations, including the Catholic and major Protestant churches are pressured by the Government, they are more than reluctant to do anything, despite the call of the Pope himself to assist refugees.  Their needs of were only met by a handful of volunteers first from Hungary, them also from Austria and Germany. The European Union as a whole seems to be undecided as to what policy they should follow in this respect.

After almost 8000 people accumulated in the streets and railway stations of Budapest, the Austrian and German Governments decided to temporarily open their borders for the refugees this step also eased the burdens of volunteers working in Hungary. Volunteers include mostly NGOs, a few individual Christians and other philantropists.

At the moment (9 September, 2015) about 8000 refugees are literally walking in Serbia toward the Hungarian.

Interestingly, this sudden influx of people does not impact life in general as most Hungarians tend to ignore it. Right wing thugs tried to attack the refugees at a railway station after a football match last week, but the Police defended them. Volunteers are often verbally abused by Hungarians and get extremely negative comments in the social media. The only related crime can be connected to those involved in human smuggling: 2 weeks ago a sealed refrigerator truck was found along an Austrian motorway with 71 suffocated refugees in the hold, 4 of the dead were small children. The truck had originally departed from Hungary.

This is what I can tell you in a nutshell.

The answer I received:

"The Senate Staffer I sent it to responded with a thank you and appreciated the "eyewitness" assessment to compare to what is being told on the Hill.  Sen Lankford is on the Senate Intel Committee so this is value added, thanks.  Please let your friends know that their assessment was provided direct into the Senate Staff and thank them for their good and hard work."

2015. szeptember 10., csütörtök

11 September, 2015, Friday, 8:15

As a result of "mass immigration" the Hungarian Government is to introduce a kind of "state of crisis". Nobody knows exactly what it is going to be like, but the new legislation coming into effect on 15 September gives special powers to Police and and authorises the Army to move in. The army will probably be deployed along the Hungarian-Serbian border to physically prevent the refugees from entering Hungarian territory. Do not ask how this will look in reality.

Yesterday, Thursday about 3700 people arrived in Hungary, crossing the border at Röszke. Their numbers also started to increase in Budapest Keleti railway station, and in the afternoon the Austrian Railways once again stopped running the international train services. Refugees took domestic trains to Hegyeshalom and then walked over to the Austrian side.

As a result of the cold weather most of the people are suffering badly, they are soaked through and have caught cold. There were also reports of many people having bruises, possibly from police clubs, but it is not clear where they got those injuries. Often, once they reach Hungary the burst into tears.

Last night US President Barack Obama called the American administration to prepare to take at least 10,000 Syrian refugees.

I (Daniel) will be given a small commercial vehicle to use for the refugees. I will have it either today or Monday, so if there is need for transportation of goods, please contact me, I will have the vehicle for a couple of weeks.

Finally please have a look at the needs list of Migration Aid, also displayed at their facebook page:

VERSENY STREET, near Keleti Railway Station

If you want to bring us donations or send us your donations by mail or order online, we can receive the shipment at the address of Verseny street 10, district 7, Budapest H-1076. Please note that delivery should be only between 16.00 - 20.00 every day.
The most needed items:
- rubber boots, raincoats
- S-M size underwear (male and female)
- Warm socks (male, female, children)
- Tight white T-shirts for underwear for men
- Warm leggings for women
- Warm tights for children
- Waterproof, strong male shoes (size 41-43, suitable for hiking or walking)
- Waterproof, strong female shoes (size 35-38), suitable for hiking or walking)
- S/M size male and female pullovers
- Autumn jacket (not a light coat, neither the thick winter coats)
- big IKEA bags
- big and strong garbage bags
- big and wide adhesive tape to seal boxes

2015. szeptember 7., hétfő

Monday, 7 September, 2015, 20:54

Refugees broke through the cordon of police at the Röszke detention point this afternoon. The several hundred-strong group started to walk to Budapest on the M5 motorway. The police tried to stop them at the motorway exit near Baja, but the crowd is continuing toward Budapest. So far one car has arrived, handing out food and blankets. 

7000 refugees have crossed the Macedonian-Serbian border today. They are expected to reach the Hungarian border in a few days.