- 8 Sep 2015 5:30 AM
Just last night thousands of migrants had decided to leave for Austria on foot; we had been told that the situation at Keleti was getting dire. Right-wing extremist had taken to throwing firecrackers at the refugees, and chaos seemed to rule. Orbán finally took the decision last night in an emergency session of Parliament to bus the refugees to the Austrian border, and hope had seemingly been somewhat restored. There were still those who chose not leave on the buses, fearful that they would be going somewhere else. Word had spread of one train whose migrant occupants had been taken from the train and transported to a Hungarian camp a couple days before.
As far as we know, some 4000 migrants, possibly more, did reach Austria. And back home at Keleti, it is everyday people who have come to the rescue of those who remain. In fact it was all this past week that aid started pouring in. Groups were organizing on Facebook to coordinate, people were getting together to transport goods and supplies from other countries, and in Budapest, locals were contributing their time, money, and hands to easing the migrants' situation. Christians, Jews, and Muslims were present; an awe-inspiring effort by all to come to the aid of those in need.
As we walked around Keleti, we saw volunteer after volunteer handing out food, lots of food. We even saw families turn down offerings as their blankets were already overflowing with apples, bread, soup, and more. It was incredible. Water bottles were everywhere. People were eating, chatting, and smiling. Kids were playing on drums, tossing balls around, and sipping juice boxes. Tables were spread with even more food in the center area and piles of clothing were on-hand for migrants to take as needed. Bathtubs and hot water for mothers to wash their babies had even been brought in one recent day.
More volunteers were handing out jackets and raincoats to families throughout the station. Bags of candy and treats were being passed around as well. Had you not been aware of what had been present here before, you may have mistaken the scene for a street fair of sorts. If only.
Speaking with migrants today, there were some new responses to where they were headed: Norway, Italy, Finland, and, yes, Germany. When would they go? Not all were sure. Some volunteers explained that having arrived here in Hungary, they simply needed to rest. Understood. Others did not have money for the train and would have to wait for the next buses to leave.
One family went running by, a baby crying in its mother's arms; they were eagerly racing to catch their departing train just up the stairs. A little boy trailed after them, clasping his newly acquired red and pink balloons which bounced along behind him. Access to trains could be stopped at any time, however, as politics continue to waver.
The New York Times ran a piece by Rick Lyman entitled, “Treatment of Migrants Evokes Memories of Europe’s Darkest Hour.” Indeed we met with one young man with bandage-wrapped hands. He told us that this had happened to him at a camp in Serbia. Did this happen while escaping? We could not understand his explanation aside from the presence of police. He did clearly communicate that migrants were forced to drink water from the toilets while at the camp. Dark indeed.
Nobody knows what tomorrow brings, not even tonight. Another 1,000 refugees had been expected this afternoon. They had not yet arrived when we left. Up above outside of Keleti's front entrance, fruits, breads, and juices were piled in a heap. A group from Vienna had been making trips back and forth to get goods to Budapest.
The nightmare of recent days has abated for now at Keleti. And though it would be horrifically naive to think the worst has passed, this does allow everyone a glimmer of hope, and a message to be sent to the whole world. In response to what was no less than a massive humanitarian crisis, it was individual people who took matters into their own hands, rising loud and strong to organize and coordinate an incredible response of aid. Individuals from all over Hungary and from all over Europe joined together to address and change a situation of near hopelessness. To look around and witness this was, at the very least, one very light moment for the the world to see.
UPDATE: Visiting again II János Pál Pápa Tér, most all of the migrants there were gone. We spotted two volunteers handing out food and stopped them to speak. Ayham Bawagekji had traveled from Luxembourg to join Diana Pencz to aid the refugees with the group Segítsünk Együtt! (Let's Help Together!) Diana told me that the group invites any and all to come and help, and the response has been incredible. Diana informed me that many of the migrants who had been here at this park before also left on the buses and were expected to be safely in Austria.
Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Frommer. To republish please contact Liz by clicking here