We’ve reached the end of the series. I saved the most divisive topic for last; the article might result in much reproval, but here, in this moment, I’m not describing what happened from a political, but a human perspective.
Like the first two parts of the series have shown (read them here and here), the article is about helping people: everyone is valuable, everybody deserves attention and protection, and if we’re able, it’s our duty to help those in need! In the focus of the topic are the people from a country ravaged by war (although the reason can also be religious, racial, or ethnic persecution, or natural disasters), so they are forced to leave and try their luck in other countries. But if we set the reasons aside, we only see people in trouble. What can we do then? Written by Noémi Szabó.
Since the article has no political implications, I ask you to please detach from the reasons when and why someone becomes/became a refugee. Just think that an unfortunate person or family, or maybe and orphan ends up in a foreign country, not knowing the local language, and only wanting to move on to be safe and find peace in a distant country.
If they didn’t have to, they wouldn’t even ask for help, they would walk thousands of miles to reach their goal: a better life.
But they face obstacles, as in the 21st century they cannot simply cross borders, they cannot be without personal documents, and they don’t receive selfless help (for example, they will get a bit of food, or maybe shelter, only after getting over the hurdles of bureaucracy for a mostly worthless paper that they may just discard in a few weeks).
Can you see the suffering in all this? The worn out clothes and shoes, leaving behind personal effects and family keepsakes, not knowing where one will sleep, worrying for loved ones? Obviously, neither did these people voluntarily choose danger and the hardships, nor did they wish for a war that devastated their homes and turned their lives upside down. They’re victims of the events around them. Average people, like you and me.
But regardless of how we look at it, what we think about their background, I suggest we distance ourselves from these theories for a minute and put ourselves in their shoes! Let’s understand what it could be like to be there, in that situation! Imagine our child, our sibling, our mother and father standing on a dusty, beaten path in the summer heat, or having to sleep in an underpass of a train station in a foreign country, relying on the goodwill of others because we don’t understand the language, don’t know anyone and barely have anything left of the money we’ve scraped together for the ”trip”!
Once we’ve overcome our pride and no longer consider our fellow human beings enemies, we can do what we need to do as intelligent people, that is, to look after each other.
2015 – the year when around 150,000 migrants crossed Hungary, many of them getting stuck in the underpass of the Keleti Railway Station. Back then I passed Keleti Station every time on my way to work, and I saw the inhumane conditions in which these people had to spend their days waiting. It was a sad and – I admit – scary sight.
Fortunately, I have a lot of empathy, so obviously I wanted to help them. What’s even more fortunate is that there are like-minded people around me, like one of my best friends who shared my thinking: we must do what we can.
So, once again we started thinking (just like with the homeless – here’s the article about that) and trying to find the most effective action for us. We were a bit late, as by then the volunteer support system had already been long established: they were using time-tested methods to hand out blankets and food, to collect donations and to make paperwork smoother. So when we asked them how to make ourselves useful, they didn’t need any more volunteers, we simply didn’t fit into their well-established structure.
We had no choice but to act to our heart’s content: we figured out that we would offer them our favorite fruit that’s tasty, healthy (and easy to buy in Hungary): apples. We’d bought several pounds, then we visited the migrants in their temporary shelter: the Keleti underpass.
Walking between the „piles” of people and blankets and the sight of the desperate faces was a staggering experience, but children quickly gathered around us, knowing that something good was about to happen, waiting for the surprise. In the end, they were probably the most surprised to receive food they’ve never seen before :). Regardless, with the future in mind, they did accept the apples, of course. There was a bit of greed, too, some of the children returned multiple times, „demanding” more and more apples.
In the meantime, we met two Hungarian volunteers who explained that, since they don’t know this kind of fruit, the small ones are unlikely to eat them. They also pointed out that the men always remain hungry, as they eat the least of the little food distributed (by volunteer organizations) because they offer their share to the children and women. Therefore, it’s worth giving the apples directly to them. So we did. They accepted.
It’s clear that people find joy in helping others – giver and receiver alike. So I don’t think I need to explain what we felt after distributing our apples.
It was also a bit of a negative experience: being a pair of girls weighing 110 pounds each, it was scary getting „charged” by kids (funny!). They surrounded us so tightly that it was almost suffocating, and I thought that no amount of gifts would have been enough for them. Which is understandable, considering that these children might just have lost their rooms, their toys, maybe even their friends, during these weeks.
Despite all this, I’m glad we did it. It was a rewarding experience. I’m sorry that many fellow Hungarians were so hostile towards the migrants. I’m actually ashamed of their behavior. But let’s not forget about those who have been helping them, realizing that it’s about people just like everyone else – for them, I don’t think this was a question even for a minute. I’m proud of them/you!
I hope I could make you think. But if my words are not decisive enough, here’s Pope Francis’ Message for the 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees – even though I’m not religious and the article hasn’t been written with religion in mind, I agree with the Pope in many of the things he said.
Book review – Yusra Mardini: Butterfly
Yusra Mardini: 20-year-old Syrian swimmer and Olympic champion, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, and middle child of a three-kid family. And coincidentally, a refugee who, at the age of 17, left Damascus with her sister, leaving other family members behind, fleeing the war across countries by boat, bus, train, and by foot.
In Damascus she lived the life of an average youth, going to school, using a smartphone, browsing the internet, and swimming. When the war reached their city, they didn’t change their lifestyle for a long time, but after both the swimming pool and their house getting hit by bombs, they were forced to flee. Their route: Turkey, Greece, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, and finally Germany, where the whole family has been living since. They work, they study, and Yusra also goes to swimming competitions.
She first qualified for the Olympics in 2016 as a member of the Olympic Refugee Team, something that was hard for her in the beginning: she didn’t want to be stigmatized. But in the meantime, she realized that this was the best way to represent other refugees. Since then, she’s preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“Nobody decides to flee. There was simply no alternative. It was not a matter of choice,” says the young woman.
In her book, she emphasizes her bad experiences in Hungary, which was particularly upsetting to me. Fortunately, since she’d return and could leave with pleasant impressions.
“I can understand that people are a bit afraid of refugees. But I’d like to ask them to try to empathize with us a bit. We’re just like them, people with passion and dreams. It wasn’t my choice to live in a war-torn country, it wasn’t my choice to flee. Of course, not all refugees have good intentions. Just as not all Europeans have good intentions. We’re exactly the same in that,” she emphasized in an interview.
Filled with excitement and real events, her biographical novel shows a world we couldn’t even imagine before (or if we could, our impressions were wrong). The book offers a good moral and teaches us empathy.
Source of featured image: wikimedia.org
Translated by Ádám Hittaller