It has been four days and so much has happened.
Last Friday evening I witnessed the chaos at Keleti station in Budapest where there were hundreds of refugees waiting. That night, the Hungarian government provided buses to those refugees and drove them to the Austrian border. Keleti station on Saturday was nearly empty of refugees. It was a completely different scene, with only a few people and many volunteers to help. Perhaps a solution has been found to help all of the refugees to move through Hungary quickly?
However, refugees are arriving at the Hungarian border from Serbia. They arrive on trains but must get off the train at the border. In order to get into Hungary, they must wait at the border. There are no buildings or rooms for them to wait in, it is just the open air. The weather is starting to get colder. Yesterday, blankets were the greatest need here. Eventually, they are allowed to move on and must find a way to Budapest and then on to Austria and Germany. Some walk, others manage to get on trains or buses. Once at Keleti station in Budapest many have been able to get on trains so there are fewer people staying there now. A few who have not been able to get on trains have chosen to walk to the Austrian border. The people are just trying to get to safety and security. Sometimes they have family members who are waiting for them in Western European countries. Often they have family members who they have had to leave behind. There are children and babies who are being carried by their parents as they walk. It has rained and they must sleep outside along the road. Although, it would be easy to help these walkers by picking them up in private cars, we are not allowed because it is against the law and it would be considered human trafficking.
Needs are continuously changing. Much has been gathered but other items are needed. Yesterday I went to the train ticket office and got gift certificates for train tickets. The train ticket from Budapest to Szeged (a town on the Serbia-Hungary) costs 3500 Hungarian forint or about 12USD. The gift certificates will help those that do not have the money for the train ticket to get to the border and through to Vienna. The money for these gift certificates has come from a fundraiser fund set up by a friend here in Budapest (Refugee Support in Budapest). Money has been pouring in from around the world. It is going to help refugees with basic necessities of food, clothing, and blankets to baby wipes and diapers to train tickets to medical care and attention. In the time it is taking to write this blog post, I am finding out that many things are needed at the border for families who are staying outside in the cold.
Right now, borders are open for refugees without paperwork or registration. The “rules” require the refugees to register in the first EU country they enter. Since there are such high numbers of people coming through, the governments have relaxed those rules and allowed people to move through. It seems that end date for these relaxed rules is Sept 15. After this, no one is sure what might happen. What we do know is there will still be people who need help.
Even now things change every day. From moment to moment and day to day, no one knows when things will suddenly become even harder. I just spoke to someone who has been at the train station almost every day. Yesterday the atmosphere was calm and peaceful and she was able to help some refugees get train tickets to Vienna and Munich. Today she went back and the atmosphere was completely different. It was tense with an increased police presence that was much more aggressive.
Sometimes I wish we could do more. Or know for sure that what we are doing is what is most necessary. What are we doing? Hungarians and expats living in Hungary are donating money and buying needed items. They are going to speak to refugees and find out their stories. But then today there is a pause…until a couple hours ago: blankets, tents, sleeping mats, and food. What’s next?