Summer 2015: when it all began
Since June 2015, Budapest train stations have been increasingly crowded with refugees transiting to Austria. With the Hungarian government offering no help to normalise the situation, local NGOs spontaneously organised assistance to support the refugees. Coordination was typically through Facebook groups, one of which was named Migration Aid by Sándor Újhelyi, the founder of the group. In the summer of 2015, Migration Aid mainly helped people waiting at train stations in Budapest and in rural areas.
n the early months, Migration Aid was not a legal entity, but essentially a collective name for a series of partially coordinated relief actions by individuals. This had a number of drawbacks, including fundraising and accounting for expenditure. To manage this, a not-for-profit limited company, Migration Aid International, was registered in England in November 2015.
Late 2015, early 2016: from the Hungarian border to Greece
From mid-September 2015, the Hungarian authorities started transporting asylum seekers arriving at the border from the Croatian border to the Austrian-Hungarian border, instead of via Budapest. During these weeks, Migration Aid volunteers, thanks to the kind support of our donors, helped at the border stations, mainly in Magyarbóly, Beremend and Hegyeshalom.
In mid-October 2015, Hungary closed its borders, with thousands of refugees arriving daily via the Western Balkan route, from then on using the Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia-Austria route to Western Europe. The focus of Migration Aid’s activities has since shifted outside our borders: we have helped in the Serbian-Croatian, Croatian-Slovenian and Slovenian-Austrian border areas.
In November 2015, we decided to assess the situation on the critical Greek islands, where many fatalities have occurred during sea crossings. From then on, all the images on this page were taken by our volunteers during their relief work on the ground.
In Lesbos, we saw that there was a huge need for help, so with the support of Migration Aid, we set up the SIRIUS.HELP project, which was created primarily to help refugees who had landed on the Greek islands.
The volunteers rotated every 1-2 weeks. Most of them came from Hungary, but we also had German, American and Romanian volunteers. As rubber boats carrying refugees could land on the more than 100 km long and in several places extremely dangerous coastline, the organisations working in the area tried to ensure the accident-free landing of the boats and the care of the injured (mainly children and elderly people who had caught cold) in a coordinated way, alerting each other.
2016: Lesbos, refugee camps around Athens and transit zones
In March 2016, we added a new location to our activities: refugee camps around Athens, mainly with children’s programmes, food and clothing distribution.
From September 2016, we faced new challenges: SIRIUS.HELP was granted access to the Tompa and Röszke transit zones, as well as to refugee camps in Hungary. We provided a wide range of assistance: in the transit zones we distributed cooking materials, fuel, clothing, hygiene products and medical first aid. At the reception centre in Kiskunhalas, we organised the collection, cleaning and reuse of surplus clothing in good condition for the refugees staying there.
In August 2016, we changed the Migration Aid logo and decided to create the Migration Aid Foundation to support our activities in Hungary. The registration process was longer than we expected, taking until the middle of the following year.
May 2016: children’s day for the children of the Bicske refugee camp
At the end of May 2016, we held an all-day children’s day for the children and their parents of the then still operating refugee camp in Bicske. Bouncy castle, game quizzes, clown, face painting – there was something for everyone.
Summer 2017: scandal over the intention to send refugee families on holiday
On a hot summer day in 2017, we spontaneously went to Lake Balaton to cool off with an Afghan family we knew from the transit zone. Everyone had a great time and no one looked at us askance.
Inspired by this, we wanted to offer other hosted refugee families a holiday opportunity, and we looked for places to do so. Our plan was struck down by politics. First, in Esztergályhorváti, they put obstacles in the way of our ideas, and 3 weeks later, in Őcsény, there was a scandal when a local boarding house offered us a place to stay.
Helping thousands of Hungarians in need in the cold winter of 2017
At the end of 2017 – beginning of 2018, we delivered a total of 90 cubic metres of aid to dozens of settlements in Hajdúság and Nyírség. Thousands of sweaters, trousers, jackets and shoes were delivered from Migration Aid’s central warehouse to the temporary warehouse in Debrecen in vans for weeks. From there, local volunteers from Migration Aid and social workers from the local communities worked together to deliver the aid to families in need. In addition to clothing, we distributed furniture, kitchen equipment and toys, the latter of which also went to the poorer kindergartens. Hundreds of sleeping bags and blankets were given to homeless people, and more than 20,000 plastic plates and cutlery were distributed to shelters. The relief operation was made possible by donations from our partners in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
2018: FAMILY SUPPORT CENTRE
Since the beginning of 2018, we have been operating our refugee family support centre in Budapest. It has become the humanitarian care centre for the refugees we support who have been accepted by Hungary. Clothes, durable food, hygiene products, household items and toys were placed on shelves for families in need to take away free of charge up to a certain amount.
2019: Égikert (Heaven’s Garden) – another big challenge
Our harrowing experience of hosting refugees on holiday in the countryside in the summer and autumn of 2017 prompted us to return to the sites of that time. One of our Austrian sponsors offered us the use of their property in Esztergályhorváti for free for an unlimited period of time, and as mentioned above, this is where we first encountered resistance to our intention to offer a holiday.
Our ideas for the use of the site have been adapted to benefit the local community more, so that they can be more involved in the processes here. We hope that this will give the people of the area a different perspective on why we believe it is important to have empathy and cooperation between people, regardless of their origin or religion. We have named the area the Heaven’s Garden. Community farming, a social farm, helping families in need, weaving intercultural links – these are some of the goals we set out to achieve. The project has its own website, where you can find more information if you are interested in what is currently happening in the Heaven’s Garden.
2020: A Segítők Egyesület (The Helpers Association) is founded
We have been thinking for years that it’s a good thing to provide humanitarian aid to people in need, but we want to try to do more to prevent people from being in such difficult situations in the first place. As Migration Aid was originally set up specifically to help refugees, we have created a new organisation to pursue our expanded aims and activities, and this has become “A Segítők Egyesület” (The Helpers Association). We dream of a more livable world where there is no need to flee, where all children can live safely and have a roof over their heads.
2021: Earthbark and Green Shelter – the environmentally friendly shelters
The worst aspect of fleeing is that people are forced to leave their homes, even forever. In doing so, they often lose family, friends, social and cultural roots. In Hungary, one of the biggest challenges for refugees with very few resources is to find a new, stable home. But they are not the only ones facing this challenge: an increasing number of young Hungarians and families are also struggling to find housing.
For years, we have been looking for the technology and concept that is not only the most cost-effective available, but also environmentally friendly. We have developed two concepts, one called “earth barracks” and the other “green shelter”…
You can read about Migration Aid today under How we help.