Do Syrian Refugees in Hungary Have the Luxury of Choice?

What has caused the sudden massive influx of Syrian refugees in Europe? Was it the warmer summer months, which made risking a passage by rickety boat across the Mediterranean more inviting? Is it the fact that the situation has grown worse in Syria, as Bashar Al-Assad’s regime seems to be losing steam against rebels and IS, and the people have had enough? It can hardly be the result of a more porous border with Turkey, since Turkey has finally began policing the border it shares with Syria, the same border which it has allowed good guys (refugees) to escape and bad guys (Is recruits) to enter Syria. Whatever the reason, the number of refugees entering Europe has soared in the past two months, and Hungary in particular is not happy.
Hungarian flag and church near Keleti Train station, Budapest, Hungary. Photo, my own.
Hungarian flag and church near Keleti Train station, Budapest, Hungary. Photo, my own.
Hungarian President Victor Orban has been called a racist and an Islamophobe. The Europe Union has voiced its displeasure over actions taken by Orban, his government and police in recent months, a displeasure which has reached a fever pitch this past week: thousands of refugees and migrants have been detained and stopped from boarding trains in capital city Budapest’s Keleti train station in the hopes of reaching Germany. Refugees have been cordoned off in passageways adjacent to the station, in the subway (which connects to the train station), on the tracks, while regular EU passengers are allowed to board. Pictures of refugees swarming the station and videos-such as one where a man throws his wife literally onto the tracks with their infant child, crying out in Arabic as he wraps his legs around her, are hard to watch.
Budapest subway line ending at Keleti station.
Budapest subway line ending at Keleti station.
Orban’s general rhetoric is difficult to stomach, because he does come across as highly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. But I understand where he is coming from: a place of privilege where people are not willing to give up their privileged. I traveled to Budapest this past New Years, and it was an absolutely enchanting city that I’d love to revisit when it’s not minus 50 degrees. Although Hungary’s economy isn’t stellar, the nation is part of the European Union, and the quality of life, at least in Budapest, isn’t shabby. But world city this is not: although Budapest might be on the tourist circuit for the party loving twenty something or the more discernible tourist, it does not use the Euro. There is a very insignificant Muslim population, mostly consisting of Turks (Hungary was in fact once ruled by the Turks the rest of The population is, well, white and hardly diverse. It may be a center of culture, but that culture is stalwartly Hungarian.
This is not to give Hungary an excuse for why it is acting so hostile towards migrants, but it does give an additional dimension. Hungarians are used to a Christian, Hungarian culture. Surely the idea of refugees wandering around their cities and towns seems scary and disturbing; after all, these are people who have no money, no food, no assistance: they are desperate. They don.t speak Hungarisn. A normal Citizen of Budapest who might commute daily to Vienna suddenly finds his or her route blocked, the train station (which I have unfold memories of) a madhouse. It is privilege to say that this Buda citizen doesn’t want their commute disrupted, but it is wrong for him or her to not want to suddenly run the risk of being mugged or robbed?  Hungary has the luxury of location and a smaller role on the world stage ( unlike France and Germany) of not having to “worry” about Syria….but suddenly, the Hungarians have to worry about a war that is not theirs. Suddenly they have to worry about their safety, their daily life, their culture and infrastructure. And additionally, they run the risk of being instantly labeled racist for being hostile towards refugees.
The way Hungary has handled the crisis seems flawed, but it’s not entirely incorrect. If anything, there are more reasons to pick on the government’s rhetoric than the actual actions being taken, although said actions don’t exactly make sense: if the refugees want to go to Germany, let them! Hungary doesn’t want them to stay, and it appears the refugees didn’t want to even prior to Germany’s Angels Merkel opening the doors wide open, because Hungary doesn’t have as many available jobs open. Why do they want to strand them in Budapest? Or worse, have them walking the long road to Austria? Why not just buss refugees at the Serbian border across to Austria and save all this trouble?
The issue in Hungary is reflective of reactions elsewhere in Europe, and it is one that concerns choice, one of the pillars of human rights law: after all, human rights exist so that people can make their own personal choices. Should Hungarians have the right to choose what type (i.e., Muslim or non-Muslim) refugees they want to let into the country? Should they have the right to want to keep their predominantly Christian country Christian? Should they have the right to be concerned at how a massive influx of refugees might change their everyday life? These choices might seem extremely privileged; they are not basic human rights issues.But this is what tends to happen in more developed nations which embrace human rights, generally speaking: the issues that concern them can seem downright trivial and ridiculous to people from less-developed countries who would give anything for a drink of water, a roof over their heads, freedom of speech, the ability to rise to political office. In other words: Hungary’s woes and choices are what social media coined “First World Problems.” But they are still problems, and they’re not always as asinine as one might think, and anyways, they mean something to Hungarians. And Hungary still belongs, first and foremost, to Hungarians.
If what I’m saying sounds horrid, or insensitive, it’s not: I am looking at the entire picture. I am looking at both sides of the equation. Orban might indeed be a racist, an Islamophobe, a Xenophobe, an asshole. Someone might ask me: “But how can Hungarians have no heart? Do you know the horrors that these refugees have escaped? Their lives turned upside down, the chance of a happy future possibly destroyed?” I cannot imagine what it is like to be a refugee. It is incomprehensible to me. I believe that refugees deserve a safe place, to be welcomed, to receive assistance. I am able to understand and empathize with both sides of the debate, because I am not a political party which has to stick to a rigid agenda in order to stick it to their adversaries. I am being human.
Refugees crystallize the importance of human rights because they, technically, have none: their basic human rights are not being met. The have no country to take care of them. They have no money to fulfill hunger, thirst and shelter. They have no voice, no power. They are stripped to their very bodies, which themselves can be violated. Refugees do not have the luxury of choosing anything about their lives. They are dependent on whatever they receive from governments and aid workers. They blow where the wind takes them: they don’t have the simple choice of staying put in the place that they love.

The job of welcoming governments is to give back to refugees their right to choose. This of course is difficult, given that these are people who will cost thousands of dollars that governments usually don’t give to their own poor and suffering. We are all due our human rights and ability to choose, but absolute freedom leads to a free-for-all that descends into lawlessness and….less freedom? Laws exist to give us our freedom in a way that controls the chaos: I can’t just pack up my stuff and move to whatever country I wish, and while that might seem irritating, it’s something everyone has to deal with.

What is disconcerting here (which I hate to critique, given that their state of mind is certainly in a fight or flight mode, and it’s probably likely that many are suffering from PTSD or other mental illnesses) is the refugees’ unwillingness to listen to authorities. They are no longer in Syria, their home, which means they have to play by new rules, wherever they end up. That means listening to local police–especially listening to local police. Hungary isn’t going to deport them back to Syria, so why are they so….hostile? Just because Hungary isn’t their country of choice? Well, when you’re a refugee you don’t exactly get a choice, especially when you haven’t even filed for asylum yet. I’m sure the asylum process is just as slow and bureaucratic and awful as America’s immigration system, but Europeans are doing everything they can. Unlike the Middle East or Africa, where refugees seem to be an all too common occurrence, Europe doesn’t traditionally deal with them: the last time such epic numbers of refugees existed in Europe was after World War II.

I hate to use the line “beggars can’t be choosers” since human rights are based on choice, and I believe in choice, but it really applies here. The refugees should be thankful they are no longer in Syria. They should be thankful they didn’t end up in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan or Egypt, which hardly have welfare systems or budgets even designed to deal with refugees (especially since the two former have long been swamped with Palestinian refugees). The point of escaping ones country and attaining refugee status is to get to safety: safety they have, and food water and shelter would also be had if they register in the camps instead of lawlessly meandering Hungary and Austria’s highways. Should they have the choice of which country they want to live in? No, because one country will be undoubtedly popular and said country will be swarmed (Germany is obviously the popular country in this case). There have to be some rules and structure, otherwise there is nothing but chaos. The sad thing is, human rights are not necessarily ‘natural:’ they had to be codefied in order for people to follow them, and yet still people violate human rights law.

The news reports that refugees refused food and water in the camp and threw rocks at the police. Why would anyone refuse food and water? Why throw rocks at the police when you are not obeying local law-a local law you did not have any say in voting in or deciding, because you are not a tax-paying member of that country? Refugees have refused to register and have even broken out of the camps; again, I ask why. Did Syria just allow anybody to walk across it’s border will-nilly prior to the Civil War? Do tourists visit other nations and start wrecking havoc [generally speaking]?
The European Union did not start the Syrian Civil War. It has not sent refugees back to Syria. The Syrian Civil War stands as an atrocious example of a disregard for human life and human rights on the part of both Bashar Al-Assad and the Islamic State. Human rights have ceased to exist in Syria, and chaos reigns. It is not wrong to ask that refugees display a bit of graciousness to the countries which are trying to sort out their refugee status. After all, the whole world cannot spiral into a Syria: we cannot let chaos and violence reign, even though it appears that Hungary has done a bad job at containing the crowds. We cannot lose our dignity and respect for the law. There is a place for Syrian refugees in Europe, but the choice of where will follow structure and process, the very structure and process that make Europe an attractive place to live and a bastion of upholding human rights.

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