Menekültek a Keleti pályaudvaron 2015. nyarán (Photo: lemon.hu)

First months (summer of 2015)

Due to the civil war in Syria which broke out in 2011, more than half of the 22 million residents were forced to leave their home. Because of the strengthening of the Islamic State terrorist organization in Iraq and its spread in Syrian, millions of people fled from terror to neighboring countries. Since Turkey has been saturated with more than 2 million refugees by 2014, and the conditions have become unbearable in the refugee camps there, more and more people are moving European countries. First of all those who thought that in the foreseeable future the situation would not be settled in the regions they had to leave. Since most people from Syria and Iraq were in Germany and Sweden before the start of the refugee wave, these were the most target countries for the most refugees. Greece-Macedonia-Serbia-Hungary-Austria was one of the most used transit routes and so this became the so-called “West Balkan route”. By the summer of 2015, Hungary was used by thousands of refugees per day as a transit country. It seems that the large number of asylum seekers was unexpected by the authorities, because they did not know or through political pressure they did not want to handle the situation in a humane way. Due to significant through traffic, unstable conditions have emerged in the affected areas, such as at the East and West Railway Station in Budapest. What the government did not want to solve the civilians took their hands. To help the needy people spontaneously joined together: in a few weeks, thousands of Facebook groups were created, and on these online platforms the more effective organizing and coordination of helping work was started. One of these Facebook group was named Migration Aid.

By the end of August 2015, more than half a dozen Migration Aid groups were existed, with more than 10,000 members. These groups are set for a humanitarian solution to supply a critical target location (Migration Aid East, Migration Aid West, Migration Aid Debrecen, etc.).

In July 2015, more than 31,000 and in August more than 47,000 asylum seekers arrived in Hungary, nearly half of them are from Syria (12,5 thousand in July and more than 23,000 in August). The Migration Aid volunteers supply an average of 800 people per day in July 2015 at Keleti Railway Station and 300 people a day at the Western and Southern Railway Station. The same number in August was 2,000 per day at the East and 500 at the other two stations. Apart from the Budapest railway stations, volunteer groups were assisted in Debrecen, Cegléd, Győr and Szolnok. Nearly 500 volunteers worked at different locations. During the two months, we were donated and distributed 140,000 bottles of 0.5 liters of mineral water, 50,000 sandwiches, 90,000 muesli, 73,000 purity packages (toothbrush, toothpaste, soap), 8,000 pairs of shoes, 6,000 sleeping bags, 390 tents, nearly 30 tons of clothes.

Lovas rendőrök felügyelik a menekültek gyaloglását a horvát-szlovén határnál 2015. október 20-án Photo: (Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times)

After the closure of the Serbian-Hungarian border (15 September 2015 – 15 October 2015)

On 15 September 2015, Hungary closed the Serbian-Hungarian border area with a live technical force border closure probably hoping to end the flow of refugees across Hungary to Western Europe. That night, the management of Migration Aid discussed the situation and some of them thought that Migration Aid should suspend its activities. However the operational coordinator indicated that they conclude from the movement of refugees in the Horgos region that the refugee flows turns to the Croatian-Hungarian border. Accordingly on that evening Migration Aid published a statement in which South Transdanubian supporters and volunteers have been alerted to the emergence of a larger number of asylum seekers in the region within 24 to 48 hours.

However, the Hungarian authorities were apparently surprised by this process and was totally unprepared for them that from 16th of September those hundreds of refugees who had been waiting at Röszke 1-2 days earlier now crossing the Croatian border. There were groups who walked 20 to 30 kilometers deep into the territory of Hungary they noticed them. In the first few days, people were mostly driven by buses to the Hungarian-Austrian border. State-supported smuggling was evolved because the Hungarian authorities transported the people to Magyarboly, Barcs and Záhony without any immigration procedure (after a few days they put them only on trains) and then to Hegyeshalom and Szentgotthárd at the Austrian border. Until the 15 October within a month nearly 180,000 people traveled through the country in this form.

In this very busy one month the volunteers of Migration Aid have been trying to be present at every critical site, but based on the experiences of the first week in September, we focused on the Magyarboly railway station and the border crossing point at Hegyeshalom. Magyarboly was the main point because there were no other relief organizations, while people on the train often had to wait hours and they can’t leave the train. According to the practice, trains were only started when they were full of people transported from Beremend. Migration Aid primarily distributed water and food packages to the needy through the train windows.

Another highlighted location was the crossing point at Hegyeshalom, where we worked together with other organizations we supply the people with the most necessary things who came from the railway station to the Austrian border. This was also primarily mineral water, sandwiches, vegetables and fruits, dry clothes and shoes on rainy days.

We took the donation from the Budapest warehouses twice a week to two locations.

A SIRIUS.HELP önkéntesei Leszbosz partjain segítik a tengeren átkelő menekülteket
A SIRIUS.HELP önkéntesei Leszbosz partjain segítik a tengeren átkelő menekülteket

SIRIUS.HELP: the aid project in Greece (November 2015 – May 2016)

In October 2015 already we had the idea that as the Hungarian refugee crisis was slowly yielding we could focus some of our aid work at those Greek Islands, where people were arriving from Turkey in small boats through the sea. In those times one could already hear about capsized dinghies every day, which claimed the lives of many children too.

In November 2015 two volunteers of Migration Aid spent 10 days at Lesvos (which was then viewed as the most critical part) to gather information about the actual situation. Then Migration Aid chose to start an independent project, SIRIUS.HELP, which would be coordinated by the mastermind of the idea, András Siewert.

As the number of the refugees arriving on sea did not falter even in the winter, from January 2016 22 Hungarian and 12 foreigner volunteers helped in Lesvos in two-week turns. On One hand we helped the arriving dinghies safely to the shore, and providing for the soaked and often shocked people with other aid organizations. On the other hand our volunteers took part also in the organization of the central transit camp and in handling the logistics of one of the greatest warehouses.

Owing to the arrangement between the EU and Turkey, the number of refugees arriving from Turkey dropped significantly in March 2016, however the closing of the Western Balkan route left more then 50 thousand people stuck in Greece. So SIRIUS.HELP has thought over its activities and in the following months we offered help in the refugee camps surrounding Athens. We also managed to get a greater bulk of donations to Greece: a 24-ton truck delivered the donations from the Hungarian people to the needy. Our volunteers handled the distribution of the donations on location.

SIRIUS.HELP works as an independent organization from the summer of 2016, but we still keep in touch and work on common projects.