‘Why do people hate us so much?’ Stranded refugees shocked at treatment in Hungary
Can you describe what you’re seeing on the ground there?
“I think what really surprised me was the number of children.
In the UK especially, the ‘migrant crisis’ or the ‘refugee crisis’ – depending on what side of the spectrum you sit on – has been described in really mechanical and impersonal language. Words like ‘swarm’ of people ‘flooding our borders,’ and it’s only now that people seem to be realising that there are individual faces and individual people that make up this huge movement of people, and the thing that immediately struck me walking around this station area, which has become a really heavily populated campsite effectively, is that there are a lot of children.”
“The thing that really got me as well was that people were just really happy when you stopped and chatted to them. Everyone I spoke to was from Syria and they were all highly experienced. Some were medical students, some were engineering students. There was a master of geography that was joking he could draw the most detailed map from here to Germany but he wasn’t able to travel there.
“The other thing is that despite what’s happened today, they are all in very good spirits. They are all remarkably calm about the whole thing and they are doing the best with what they’ve got.
“There was a master of geography that was joking he could draw the most detailed map from here to Germany but he wasn’t able to travel there.”
It’s a very sad experience to be there and know that in a few days, I’ll jump on a train or a plane and flash my Australian passport and go back to my normal life and it’s hard to imagine – even when they are able to register as asylum seekers in Germany or other countries – how their lives will return to normal, given they’re so deeply upset about what’s happening in Syria and a lot of people don’t want to be in Europe, they are only here because they have to. That’s what they kept telling me, ‘We’re not here because we want to move to Europe for jobs or money, we would rather be at home in our houses with our families but we can’t do that. That’s why we’re here, because we need some help’.”
What are the people you spoke to hoping for?
“I asked a lot of people what they were hoping for, what they were so keen to get to out of Germany and everyone said the same thing: ‘We just want to live, we just want to go somewhere where we are safe and where our skills and our knowledge is appreciated, where we can contribute’.
“I think particularly in the UK, the press there has really dehumanised this debate, and that’s noticed. The people that I’ve spoken to today say, ‘We’re not here to cause any trouble but why do people hate us so much? We’re all humans, whether we’re Muslims, whether we’re Jewish, whether we’re Christians. We see each other as humans.’
“They’re really struggling with is that in their minds, they see Europe as a generous, wealthy band of nations that they could count on for help and they’re not really getting that and they’re confused about why that is.
“The people that I’ve spoken to today say, ‘We’re not here to cause any trouble but why do people hate us so much? We’re all humans, whether we’re Muslims, whether we’re Jewish, whether we’re Christians. We see each other as humans’.”
They’ve lost all dignity, they’re carrying what they own on their backs, many of them would prefer to be at home but they can’t and that’s why they’re here. And for them the hardest thing out of all of this isn’t the walking, the rowing boats across dangerous water, losing friends, being arrested, it’s the indignity of it all when for so many years their country has been engulfed in civil war, they’ve had to flee their homes and now they’re having too – in their eyes- grovel for assistance.”
How are the police at the station treating these refugees?
“We’ve seen a lot less police, but they’re there because you see them hidden behind poles at the station. They’re not quite as in-your-face as they were when the first influx happened 48 hours ago. It’s very obvious to the media that they’re deliberately trying to avoid those types of images that we saw of them ring-fencing refugees and migrants as they sit on the pavement with their big batons and their riot gear. They’re not doing that.
“However the scenes were deeply distressing for many people today when several hundred of these refugees boarded a train – they were sort of forced on and they didn’t know where they were going – and were delivered to effectively a refugee camp site, distressed, concerned, confused. Families were separated, loved ones were separated, people were left behind at the station, they didn’t know what was going on. And the police presence there certainly inflamed the situation because it was very vocal, there wasn’t a great deal of communication, people didn’t understand what was going on. There were scuffles, there were arrests. Even several hours later when those who didn’t get on the train had a chance to sit down and get in contact with their relatives, we saw people being marched people out of the crowd.
“So there is this constant police presence and fear that at any point the police could clear this campsite, and that’s probably adding to the anxiety.
Listen to the full interview here: