Lessons Learned: Budapest

Refugees NOT welcome

Hungary doesn’t really want refugees there.  The current government is really making it difficult for refugees to stay – but they’re also not helping them to leave.  Unfortunately, that means a lot of people are stuck.  Thankfully, I got to spend time with the amazing people of Danube International Church, who are going out of their way to minister to refugees in Budapest in practical and spiritual ways.  Through them, I got to meet several refugees in Budapest and share their stories with you.


Mateo’s family – Cuba 

Mateo was an IT engineer in Cuba, and his wife Angela was an international tax accountant.  Their daughter is 4 years old.  Angela’s father lives in the US, and they are hoping to join him. Believe it or not, the safest way to get their daughter out of Cuba was to buy tickets to Russia!  They flew to Russia and traveled through Eastern Europe to Hungary – just to be deported back to Cuba.  This time is their second try, and they are in a refugee shelter outside of Budapest; they’ve been there for about 8 months.  This fall, their daughter will start kindergarten in the shelter-camp, led by UNICEF volunteers.  They don’t want to stay in Hungary, because they want their daughter to learn English – and if she is in school in Hungary, she has to learn Hungarian.  They want to go to the states, but I think they’d be ok with Germany.  They seem to be nominal Catholics.  Basically, they reminded me of middle class North Americans – focused on their careers, but mainly focused on their daughter’s safety, security, and happiness.  They’re willing to do just about anything for her to have a better life.


Mamood & Miriam – from Afghanistan

This young married couple just got their Hungarian papers the day we visited!  They are from a minority group in Afghanistan called “Hazara”.  The July 23, 2016 bombing targeted their ethnic group – it was the deadliest in the country since 2001.  According to Mamood, the Taliban really hates their ethnic group.  Both Mamood & Yasmin are only children, and most of their parents have died.  They decided to try for a better life 2 years ago when Yasmin got pregnant.  Unfortunately, she miscarried on the journey.  Mamood got all the way to Sweden, and was there for 7 months, but for some reason got deported.  During this time, Miriam delivered a stillborn baby.  When we visited, she was in her first trimester of her third pregnancy, and the doctors have ordered her on bed-rest.  Mamood’s papers mean that he is legally allowed to work in Hungary, and they are required to move out of the shelter-camp and into a house.  Thankfully, the local church has helped to secure both an apartment and a job – most Hungarians legally discriminate against the refugees, even those with legal papers.

Mamood & Miriam became Christians in the refugee camps.  Because of the Taliban’s hatred and discrimination of their family & ethnic group, they had become convinced that Islam is not a good religion.  But, as good Muslims, they had heard of Jesus as a good prophet. Thanks to the work of several pastors and missionaries throughout their journey, they were able to read a Bible in their language, and watch a movie about Jesus in their language, too.  Mamood is recently baptized.

Mamood’s English is very rough (he now needs to focus on learning Hungarian), but he wanted to tell me that his life has totally changed because of Jesus.  He does not think that all Muslims are bad – he has Muslim family.  But he thinks that God can work good things in the  midst of their horrible experiences.  He is full of hope and promise, and is convinced that he can work hard to support his wife and baby, and that God will take care of everything else.


Darlene & Michelle – Democratic Republic of Congo

These two sisters are traveling companions, escaping a terrorist militant group similar to Boko Haram.  They stick together, to protect each other on the road.  (Which is a good idea – in Vienna, I learned that a significant number of female refugees are sexually exploited or assaulted on the journey, and often arrive in Europe pregnant, which makes it extra hard on them to find work, and extra timely for the EU country to process their paperwork.)

They were hairdressers and clothing shop owners in Congo.  They walked to Libya, took a boat to Italy, and somehow ended up in Hungary.  (they were a little sketchy on the details).

Unfortunately, despite significant terror attacks against the people of the Congo, it isn’t an internationally recognized war zone.  Which means, unfortunately, that these sisters might not get amnesty in Hungary.  They speak fluent French, and would like to work in France somewhere, but France isn’t taking many migrants.  In the meantime, they are volunteering in the clothing closet of the refugee shelter-camp, just for something to keep them busy all day, and hoping that the ‘work record’ will help their asylum case.

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Pakistan & Afghanistan

We got to visit a women’s and children’s shelter in Budapest.  Traditionally, this was designed for former prostitutes, Roma (“gypsies”), single pregnant women, and families escaping domestic violence.  It’s basically a shelter of last-resort to keep very vulnerable women and children off of the street.  Now, with the current refugee crisis, it’s mainly hosting refugee families without adult men.

You see, refugees do not receive any  help from the Hungarian government.  Once they receive asylum paperwork to stay, they are not allowed to live at refugee shelters, they are not allowed to collect any kind of food assistance or rent assistance.  But, they are also not given any help in finding a job or an apartment – and Hungarian citizens are legally allowed to discriminate against non-citizens, so it can take weeks or months to find a job or an apartment.  Once they are denied asylum, they are also kicked out of refugee shelters, but are given no assistance to leave.  Basically, either way, they’re completely penniless with no where to sleep and nothing to eat or wear.

Sounds like most of the single men either keep walking to another country or sleep on the streets/ metros/ train stations.  But a few of the women’s shelters take on the most desperate refugees.

The woman in the far left of the above photo has 4 children – 2 of which are nearly adults, and 1 which is studying in Europe.  She was threatened by an abusive husband (whether back in Pakistan or on the journey, I’m not sure), and somehow ended up in Hungary with 2 small children, no money, and no job.  Seriously desperate.

The woman in the far right of the above photo is from Afghanistan.  Her son (second from left) is an adult who speaks 5 languages and wants to study engineering.  He brought his mother from Afghanistan to protect her.  Unfortunately, she got very sick on the journey, and they think she has a blood clotting disorder which makes it impossible for her to work or travel.  He is hoping for a student visa to study in Hungary and take care of his mother.

What’s Next?

I don’t have the answers for the refugee crisis, and definitely no idea what else could be done in Budapest.  But I do know that if they want the refugees to leave, they have to help them do that.  The people I met don’t want to stay in Hungary – but they can’t leave.  They need papers and enough money for the next leg of the journey.  In the meantime, friends, prayer, and practical support is being offered by Christian missionaries in the area.  Please keep them all in your prayers.









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