If you want to hear good things about Hungarians, go to Keleti railway station
Astonishing conditions prevail around Keleti railway station. If you have been there recently, you understand that it is impossible to speak about the situation without the use of strong adjectives. Hundreds of migrants have settled down in the subways and squares surrounding the railway station. Entire families are living their lives in the covered passageways; children run around among the people hurrying to the metro, and a lot of people eat there sitting on the ground, while others sleep in rows by the wall.
It is no use going into details yet, please, click on the photos before reading on, it will make more sense after that.
It is obvious that Hungary, and of course Europe as well, whose main railway stations show similar conditions, is undergoing a crisis like never before. We have met no such conditions since WWII. There was, of course, a war then, which explains the turmoil.
Instead of an apocalypse
Here comes the first twist: there is a war now, too. Because the majority of the migrants come from Afghanistan; this fact is not only supported by statistical data, but also by the conversations I had during the two days I spent in the vicinity. There was a young guy who was telling me about the circumstances of his journey, and his face only lowered when I asked why he had left his home. For an answer he pulled up his trousers: his leg and thigh were covered in wounds.
A bomb exploded when I was walking there
– he said briefly. “It was then that I decided to leave.”
These people have lost the roof over their heads due to a war, just like a lot of Europeans did seventy years ago. The only difference is that, owing to the effects of globalisation, they can take shelter not only in the streets of their own cities, but, for instance, in the public spaces of Budapest, too.
The second twist in the story is that, though the situation around Keleti is critical, the atmosphere is not apocalyptic. Large families characteristic of Asia are sitting here on blankets: father, mother, uncle, cousin, and a boy from the neighbourhood who was trusted to their care: if they are coming to Europe anyway, let him come with them. Most of them are talking with each other, twiddling with their telephones, or sleeping. The number of children running around here or playing with toy cars and stuffed animals exceeds the Hungarian average by far. The youth are playing football in the forefront.
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“They are peaceful, they don't make make rows” – said two street orderlies in reflex vests when I asked them about the situation. “Just a month ago there were hardly any of them here. Then the rubbish we collected filled two dumpsters. Now nine dumpsters have been filled by noon” – that is how they described the intensification of the situation with this peculiar measurement.
The surge has started, only the destination is not clear
The surge, indeed, started some weeks ago, entailed by the news that Hungary was building a fence on the Serbian border. Those who had already been on the way from Asia towards the EU set off to the rest of the way in order not to be forced to make a detour. But it was not only the migrants who sped up. The Macedonian government began to transport the migrants free of charge from one border of the country to the other, lest someone get stuck there accidentally because of some silly fence.
With a European mentality and being the citizen of a safe country it is, in fact, difficult to understand what the crowd lying about at the railway station expect.
I'm going to Germany
– answered nearly everybody when we were talking about their plans. But very few of them could name a city, a concrete destination. Their spontaneity and lack of information, by the way, can also signify their desperate situation. They did not walk across half of the world after a long planning, but they decided that they were not going to be next when a bomb exploded or when a relative of theirs got shot down.
“Have you been fingerprinted?” – I asked several of them, and they responded with a proud nod, saying that they had undergone the procedure already in Bulgaria. Then they listened with wide eyes to my brief legal summary according to which, in that case, they do not stand much chance in Germany: the European regulations state that when they submit their application for asylum, they will have to go back to the place where they were first registered.
It was not clear either why they were waiting in masses around railway stations. I heard from volunteer helpers that some were waiting for their family members, who had still been on the way, to arrive. There are many who are going to the refugee camp marked out for them, but for some reason they have stopped here for some days. The other half of the people are going to Germany. But how are they going there? By train, or by taxi, those were the typical answers. I did not, however, learn anything else, even though I talked with about a dozen migrants.
I felt that most of them do not conceal anything: they are simply waiting for some opportunity, which, according to the experiences they have gathered during the 6000-kilometre-long migration, usually comes. It is certain that the crowd near Keleti station, counting hundreds of people, changes almost entirely in every three or four days. People simply disappear somewhere.
Hungarians? They are nice
I needed two days to get used to the conditions at Keleti station. Then came the next shock.
What Hungarians are like? They are very nice people
– answered several people to my question. “The police do not harm us, they let us sleep” – said an Afghan father, sitting on his blanket.
It was bizarre that in such a situation the migrants did not complain, on the contrary, they praised our country. All this became comprehensible when we came to speak about the adversities they had gone through.
“Here it is good” – explained a boy from Kabul. “Bulgaria, you see, there they weren't friendly. The police hit our legs with truncheons when we registered there.”
“Don't people disturb the migrants?” – I asked those who knew the place better, namely the two cleaners.
“There hasn't been any trouble yet. But on some occasions skinheads came. This is going to grow into a war; where there are so many people, some trouble will occur” – mumbled the elder one. “I am sorry for them, look, they are families with little children.”
That was the time when I started to feel uncertain. In the subway that had turned into a migrant-doss-house, empathetic street orderlies and migrants praising my compatriots was what I least expected.
The positive image of the nation was further polished when I noticed the people distributing food. The crowd formed long rows twice a day in order to get sandwiches or a hot meal. A strange group stood before the row: a tattooed, sumo wrestler-type figure was giving out the food packs, while behind him a woman of similar looks, another woman who looked like a school teacher, a gentleman resembling a professor of sociology, and some student girls were arranging the packs.
It was not the state or one of the churches that employed such a colourful team for the task. I did not see the representatives of the Hungarian state anywhere amid the crisis.
Volunteers organised themselves into a group in order to look after hundreds of people, doing it in their free time, without any organisational background, from their own financial resources.
But it was not only they who changed the picture that you can form in your mind on the basis of the government's propaganda. I met others, even more civil than them: I saw a woman who distributed some cakes, then went on down to the metro. A man brought clothes in a bag. Others gave coloured pencils to the children.
Only those sorts of things happened about which there was no question in the national consultation.
But before we lull into the happy ending, I haste to point out that what I experienced does not mean more than that a part of the Hungarian people have stayed in their right mind in the middle of the hysteria propaganda. The immigration situation, however, is not going to be settled by decent citizens but a concept that is more sensible than the fence, which the migrants can go round anyway. And this concept will be needed for sure, because the signs indicate that the wave of migrants is not subsiding. In February, the migrants talked about a two- or three-month-long journey. The pace has speeded up since then. Those waiting at Keleti left from Afghanistan less than three or four weeks ago.