"As the weather turns colder and colder, the refugees en route face another difficulty: most of them have insufficient clothing, and sleeping outside further endangers their health. Children and women are especially vulnerable, which is why St. Columba’s Church started the SOS project, aiming to provide a warm and welcoming environment where refugee families can rest for a night."
In the summer of 2015, thousands of refugees entered Hungary, many of them gathering at railway stations in Budapest while en route to western European destinations. The inadequate accommodation and uncertainty surrounding it all created a situation of international humanitarian concern. With the Hungarian government controlling the border more strictly, the ad hoc camps at stations have now been taken down, but the lessons of the summer should not be forgotten. Although the numbers entering Hungary are currently much smaller, migration continues. As the weather turns colder and colder, the refugees en route face another difficulty: most of them have insufficient clothing, and sleeping outside further endangers their health. Children and women are especially vulnerable, which is why St. Columba’s Church started the SOS project, aiming to provide a warm and welcoming environment where refugee families can rest for a night.
It is difficult at this moment to predict what routes people will be travelling by the time the cold weather truly hits. The project intends to provide legal information and temporary shelter on a nightly basis to refugee family with small children who would otherwise be sleeping at railway stations or in parks. It takes place at St. Columba's Church of Scotland in Budapest, and is ready to accept 20 individuals per night for one, at most two nights.
It may not seem like a lot of people, but the Church wishes to provide as good care as possible, and for refugees even one night of uninterrupted sleep can help and make a difference. As mentioned, the Church and the volunteers will also do their best to inform the refugees about their situation, and advise them to report to a designated reception centre where they could live in much more humane conditions than a railway station and also begin the asylum application process.
Families have been gathered from nearby railway stations based on intake interviews conducted by representatives from the Kalunba Charity and refugees (people who have already received asylum in Hungary) who will translate.The conditions will be explained to those receiving the service that it is for only one night at a time, and that, due to their vulnerability, it is only for families with small children. Kalunba Charity will provide the professional help for the project, and trained volunteers will also stay with the refugees at night. Volunteers include university students from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Hungarian students from Karoli Reformed University.
As many of the volunteers are people who have received aid from the RHC Refugee Mission before themselves, and many are women, the mothers and children will hopefully feel more safe and welcomed and will be more open to ask questions and believe that people truly are trying to help them.
The project has already started and is currently planned for 1-3 months, but depending on the Hungarian refugee strategy and the situation there could be a potential demand for this service until March, the arrival of spring.
St. Columba Church is grateful for all the support the project has already gained and we are thankful for any possible help we get in the future.
Rev. Aaron Stevens, Ministrer of St. Columba's Church of Scotland