The Reformed Alliance in Germany was one of the international partners that supported the work of Kalunba. Isabel Metzger, journalist of the reformiert-info.de, interviewed Dóra Kanizsai-Nagy for an update on their situation since July 2018. Here we publish the English translation of the original article printed in German.
In the summer of 2018, we called for donations for the refugee work in Hungary. In cooperation with its implementing partner, Kalunba Social Services Ltd., the Reformed Church in Hungary (RCH) has been supporting integration projects for years. In July 2018, a large part of the financial resources were cut off. The majority of the projects had previously been financed by EU funds from the so-called AMIF (Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund). In 2018, the Hungarian government withdrew its call for AMIF applications. Since then, refugee work in Hungary has become much more difficult. How is the situation of Kalunba? What does the future of refugee work look like? We spoke with Dóra Kanizsai, co-founder of the refugee organisation, Kalunba, and head of the Unit of Refugee Integration under the Diaconal Office of the RCH.
In the summer of 2018, millions of AMIF funds were cut off for Kalunba. How has the situation developed, and what does the programme look like today?
All programmes are continuing. We still offer housing, provide language lessons, and help with problems regarding bureaucracy and health matters. Nevertheless, we had to reduce services considerably. For example, until June 2018, we were able to finance accommodation for 200 refugees in 15 apartments under the "Netovább" project. Since the EU programme has come to an end, we can provide accomodation for only 100 refugees. We look after children once or twice a week. In the afternoon we help 30 of them with their homework, and we take care of a few of them while their parents are in class with us. Twenty refugees receive Hungarian language lessons with us; more is no longer possible.
For how long can your projects be financially secure?
The organisation "Brot für die Welt" supports the housing project. This will continue until the end of 2020. With HEKS (Swiss Church Aid) we are able to co-finance school projects and language lessons until the end of 2021. Unfortunately, however, this is not enough to finance all of the necessary services. Therefore, we are looking for further sources of income.
Where, for example?
Last summer we were hopeful. We had the plan to turn part of our facility into a language school. We had very good teachers with higher education and a lot of experience. But we lacked the money from AMIF (Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund); we couldn't guarantee any fixed contracts. So some teachers left. We got new staff members, but they don't have the same experience. Twenty immigrants are currently taking language lessons with us for a fee. But this is not yet enough for a language school.
Kalunba programme includes language lessons. Currently 20 refugees are learning Hungarian in order to have better access in everyday life and work. Photo by Thomas Einberger/ Brot für die Welt
Where is the money most lacking?
Generally we need more staff; just one or two more permanent employees would help. Only a few are employed by us. Those that are, usually work part-time. Most of our colleagues are unpaid: 20 permanent volunteers from Hungary, plus four from abroad. Two of them came to us through church programs and the other two through the Erasmus program. They work as mentors, provide language lessons, help with everyday questions, and overall organisation. It is not possible to divide the work. You could say that each of us does a little bit of everything.
How big is the current need for help for refugees in Hungary?
The number of refugees who come to us and seek support has decreased. That does not mean, however, that there is no need. Access to Hungary through the borders is almost impossible today. Many refugees leave. People give up, and see no prospect in Hungary.
Are the prospects really that bad?
The mood is tense. Nevertheless, we advise refugees to get Hungarian citizenship. For a few years, we tell them, you can stay here in Hungary. After that you can move freely. Right now it is quite easy to find jobs in Hungary. We match jobs and help the refugees to improve their Hungarian language skills. Today employers in Hungary seem more open and flexible than they did one or two years ago. Many people don't care if someone can speak Hungarian or not. Yet I worry for the future of those who move on. Here, the option to achieve citizenship is still possible, but what awaits in Western Europe? A maze of hope that one country will eventually will give long term residence, how long can this process take? Crucial years of their lives are lost. We should not allow this to happen, I think. That's why we encourage people to stay, and learn to stand on their feet immediately, with all these jobs available, it's actually easier than before. It's sounds surreal but this is how it is.
In the summer of 2018, the legal situation for refugee work in Hungary tightened. Since then, NGOs who "contribute to illegal migration" are liable to prosecution. What influence did the law have on your work?
Basically, not much has changed in our work. I have not heard of any refugee helpers who have been persecuted under the new law. Nevertheless, the politics are frightening many people. Last summer we had a meeting with Kalunba staff and discussed: Do we have to worry? As a precaution we deleted all of the names of our colleagues from the website. But the attitudes of the people have not changed -- they have become worse. Some people don't dare to help us anymore. They do not want to get into problems with the law. Others, however, see themselves strengthened with the law. Helping refugees is a kind of rebellion for them.
How sure do you see the future of Kalunba?
A few days ago a representative of the UNHCR came to us to get an idea of our work. She was positive and praised our work. She told us: Try to maintain what you have. We wonder for how much longer. For this year it looks more or less safe. But in one or two years: we have no idea. We have to think about how this must continue. Even if Europe provides funding through AMIF, the government is preventing access. Therefore we hope that in the future, the EU will take more political responsibility and not leave the financing of refugee work to the individual countries.
What do you wish from your international partners?
We welcome visits from members of the World Communion and our international partners, including young people and students. For us it is important that the public is informed about our situation regarding refugee work. We also receive a lot of support. That motivates us a lot. In the summer, the youth festival will take place in Hungary. I hope that German churches will also take the opportunity to visit and get in touch with us.
Interview by Isabel Metzger
Originally published on reformiert-info.de
Translated by RCH Ecumenical Office