For tourists, the highlights of a trip to Budapest include Baroque architecture, Hungarian goulash and grandiose thermal spas. For me, the itinerary of a two-day tour of Hungary’s capital was a bit different. For me, a holiday in Budapest centered around documenting the plight of Syrian refugees crossing Europe, thousands of men, women and children sleeping outside of a railway station in hopes of continuing what has been an arduous and exhausting journey to stability.
How did we end up here? Not the thousands of Syrian refugees sleeping outside Keleti Railway Station, that answer is easier to answer, but how did WE as humans end up here? Comfortably sleeping inside our cozy homes while others plead for help, beg for an opportunity to live in a place where their children aren’t blown to bits by terrorists, or the nations dispatched to combat the terrorists. Indeed, how did we end up here? And more importantly, where do we go from here?
The Hungarian government’s hostile treatment of refugees heading towards Western Europe has been well documented. “Please do not come … I think we have a right to decide we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country … We can’t guarantee that you will be accepted, ” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has stated. Anti-Muslim rhetoric continued to spread as I landed in Budapest this week for my holiday, as Christians fearing a Muslim takeover of Europe clashed with refugees and their “naïve” sympathizers.
In the United States, there has been little coverage of the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Our media, understandably, has been obsessed with Donald Trump and Kanye West trolling American citizens. Entertainers generate ratings, which generates advertising revenue. Executives at the networks are happy, Madison Avenue is ordering off the top shelf and the American public is entertained. “Where the fuck is Syria anyway?” I’m sure others have pondered this question between their fifth and six sips of foam from their overpriced mocha lattes. I’m no better, and definitely susceptible to this as well, and so found the European coverage of the refugee crisis surprising. Why hadn’t I heard more about this before landing in the middle of it?
For me, the crisis became tangible after photographs surfaced of a dead toddler washed up on a Turkish beach. That haunting image captured the dangerous journey of four million Syrians fleeing unrelenting violence in their homeland. News reports of the Aylan Kurdi death were followed by reports of unrest outside of Keleti Railway Station in Budapest where more refugees attempting to make their way to Germany were locked in limbo by the Hungian government. Since I was in the city, I wanted to see first hand what was going on so I took a taxi to the train station.
7,000 refugees traveling to Germany by train had been told that they would not be allowed to travel onto to Austria and eventually that country’s northern neighbor. Most of these people had already purchased tickets for several hundred Euros before being informed of the news. With no where to go, no direction, no hope, many of the refugees camped out outside of Keleti station. Thousands of women, men and children sleeping on cardboard boxes, in tents, patches of grass … concrete. “This isn’t right. This isn’t how we treat others,” I thought out loud as I walked through the popup camp.
I didn’t know what to do. How to help these people. So I began taking pictures. Focusing on the people impacted by the crisis. One young man recounted his trek from Syria to Hungary, revealing he and his family had spent over 1,000 euros on train tickets to Germany. Clutching papers that were supposed to guarantee them a ride to freedom, to a new life, his eyes told a story of exhaustion and defeat.
Below are a few images taken over the course of two days at Keleti. If you weren’t aware of this story before reading this, and even if you were, please continue to follow it. When people are in need, we should help them. That’s the way I was raised. It isn’t necessarily a Christian way, a Muslim way, a Buddhist way, an atheist way, but it is the right way.