Fida in Hungary: ‘The situation for Roma refugees is very weak’

Pirjo-Riitta Törmänen jakoi välipalaa Unkarin Romanimission hätämajoituksessa majoittuneelle perheelle Tiszebecsissä.

Fida is helping refugees on the Ukraine-Hungary border by providing emergency accommodation, meals, and hygiene supplies. Over 280,000 refugees have crossed the border.

Fida started emergency aid as soon as the war began. The first aid partner on the ground was the Hungarian Roma Mission (OCM), which receives refugees and provides emergency accommodation. OCM is an aid organisation under the Pentecostal Church of Hungary, that specializes in helping the Roma minority. The Roma Mission works in education, social work, and health care.

Fida’s workers Aarne and Pirjo-Riitta Törmänen carry out relief work on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border.

– We have housed 140 refugees and can accommodate about 160 more in emergency accommodation. And OCM can acquire additional emergency accommodation if needed, the Törmänens report.

Emergency housing uses village houses, which OCM has in 20 locations in north-eastern Hungary. They are equipped to varying degrees, but all offer a warm overnight stay and meals. With Fida’s support, the Roma mission arranges meals for refugees and distributes hygiene products such as soap, diapers and sanitary pads. Funds can also be used for the rapid installation of sanitary facilities.

The poorest are the worst off

Hungary’s Roma Mission’s relief focuses mainly on the Roma. Many Roma families have lived in deep poverty even before they left Ukraine. The families have many children and are poorly educated, which makes for a more challenging start in a new country. The ethnic Roma also face discrimination and prejudice in eastern European countries, even during a crisis.

The Hungarian Roma Mission shares info about the plight of the Roma at border stations and their workers have directed Roma refugees to emergency accommodation.

The Törmänens tell the example of a family that crossed the border with ten children. Remarkably, the father was allowed to leave Ukraine because the mother would not manage or cope alone with ten children.

– Some of the refugees we have met have feared that they will be the last to receive help or be included in the journey. This probably cannot be generalised, but they have such fears, says Pirjo-Riitta Törmänen.

– With them are some very small children, just babies. And expectant mothers whose due date is near.

– We heard that on Monday a child was born to one of the refugee mothers in the small town of Demecser,” adds Aarne Törmänen.

According to the Törmänens, the reality of the refugees is seen by erratic emotions. Many worry about their relatives left in Ukraine. Others wonder what lies ahead and how they’ll manage and adapt.

– Emotions are running high, says Pirjo-Riitta.

Churches and volunteers are the cornerstone of the work

The war in Ukraine has awakened Hungarians to help in many ways. According to Törmänens, the Hungarian Roma Mission has from 20 to 30 refugee workers. But there is also a whole group of volunteers from local churches.

– It wouldn’t work without volunteers. For example, they clean the premises, prepare the lodgings, and cook, says Aarne Törmänen.

Churches have also collected a variety of supplies, including clothing, toys, and hygiene supplies to help the refugees.

At Tiszabecs border crossing, a village of 1,200 people, the local Pentecostal church has already accommodated 200 Roma, a major effort for a small congregation.

Tiszabecs is also the operations base of Fida’s other partner organisation, Hungarian Baptist Aid. It offers accommodation, clothing, food, and transport to those refugees who come on foot across the border with nowhere to go.

Fida’s emergency aid campaign also funds Hungarian Baptist Aid’s work in Hungary and Ukraine.

Fida’s assistance in Ukraine and neighbouring countries:

  • With Fida’s Ukraine-aid funds, relief work was started by mid-March in Ukraine, Hungary and Romania.
  • Fida’s local partner organisations provide refugees with emergency accommodation, food, hygiene supplies (such as diapers, menstrual pads and washing supplies), and warmth (blankets, mattresses, clothing).
  • Fida has its own workers in Hungary who coordinate the aid to which Fida contributes. The partners guide and advise refugees in border regions on emergency accommodation.
  • Our current partners include Life&Light (Ukraine), Inspiration Center (Ukraine), Pentecostal Church of Ukraine, Hungarian Roma Mission, Hungarian Baptist Aid, and the Romanian Pentecostal Foreign Mission Agency.
  • Fida’s emergency response fundraiser has collected over €490,000 EUR in less than three weeks.

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