Over 32,000 people fleeing conflict, violence and poverty have requested asylum in Hungary in the first quarter of this year, the second highest number of applicants in the European Union after Germany in this period of time. A significant increase on the 43,000 requests received in 2014 and dramatic jump from 2,150 requests in 2012. Many of the migrants have journeyed from the Middle East and North Africa, crossing into the landlocked country in the heart of Europe at its border with Serbia.
In the wake of such figures, the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta has launched an emergency medical and relief programme to address the plight of refugees in three major cities across the country. Initial projects are up and running in the capital Budapest, in Győr to the north and Szeged to the south. Areas where needs are greatest have been targeted first: at the Eastern Railway Station in Budapest medics and social workers operate a mobile clinic, treating 52 people for injuries and illnesses in the first week of operation and distributing food, water and clothes, with the number of recipients quickly doubling as the daily service becomes better known. One member of the team speaks English, and the service employs Urdu, Pashtu, Dari and Farsi interpreters on voluntary basis.
In addition to running a daily mobile clinic, the Order of Malta in Hungary is working in Szeged with the civic agency to patrol the surrounding woodlands, distributing water and food. Between 20-30% of the 150 people assisted in the first week are children from newborns to 6 years old. In Győr, where a similar programme is running, the service is developing an agreement with the local immigration office as to the division of roles in the area. “Poor hygiene – lack of washing and toilet facilities – is a growing problem for all. We are seeing more cases of fever, diarrhea, vomiting, allergic skin symptoms” says one of the Order of Malta staff working on the project.
In these early days of the project, the Order of Malta’s Hungarian Charity Service is gathering information and evaluating progress made so far to develop further recommendations. In response to the current humanitarian crisis the service is ready to intervene to wherever the need is greatest.
The Order of Malta runs a vast number of assistance programmes for migrants and refugees in many parts of the world. Last June it launched an international campaign to mark World Refugee Day calling for new humanitarian responses.