Impression – Stations of Hope and Despair

Budapest Keleti. Even if you have seen the pictures and the video’s made here, nothing can prepare you for when you get out of the train. When you are confronted with the pretty bad situation of the refugees here, the police line blocking the entrance to the station. Some VIP being filmed in front of the station just left, lots of press around. Turns out a pro-refugee demonstration, and against the mostly bad, but always random, way the refugees are treated here, just took place.

50 m from my hostel the “transit zone” starts. This means lots and lots and lots of people, families, an old lady in a wheelchair, young people, old people, sleeping in the underground “walkways” towards the station. And this tunnel system is huge. And still too small…. (on a good, personal, side note, the hostel is great, and there’s free coffee all the time!, and the people here are very much aware of the hopelessness of the refugees sleeping right up the front door….) Note: since the fence went up on the border between Hungary and Serbia last monday, the situation at the station became even worse.

I think the images of those refugees that still made it to a train and were violently separated from “european” travelers are known by now. Again, even when you mentally prepare yourself, nothing can truly prepare you if you’re in the middle of it.

When I left the next day, all train traffic to Austria and Germany was stopped. Outside the station the volunteers were busy again. I saw some small children playing with pink balloons (they organize children’s games too). While grown ups hold up signs such as “we are under siege”… What I watched here, the scale of the situation is so.. HUGE you have either the choice to sit down and cry your heart out, harden your heart and close your eyes, or well…. do some really small things for a few people.

The station looks completely different for an “european tourist” traveling in the other direction. A station woman pulled me to the front of the ticket line for my ticket to Belgrade (otherwise I would have missed the train), and because I couldn’t find the platform, another guy actually helped me cross the railway tracks and brought me inside the train..I’m very thankful for their help… but…. Ok, the woman said my smile helped too… but I guess a refugee can smile all he wants…

On the way to Novi Sad –  Subotica. Not only is the border control on both sides pretty hectic (and all the time, I can’t help but notice how their attitude changes when they see my passport….) But they actually check under the trains going to Hungary for “stowaways”. The bus station at Subotica looked a bit too full imho too.

All the time I’m torn between staying and helping out, and doing the usual tourist things. But I do enjoy meeting great people all the time, such as two weirdo guys on the train. Us misbehaving resulted in non-functioning outside doors of that train, and a painful head because the doors in the end DID close on the back of my head after we somehow found out we could open them while the train was riding….

Novi Sad. Where I said goodbye to a wonderful young family. I arrived as a guest, and left as a friend. When I came back from hiking to the fortress and along the river, my host didn’t have good news for me about the situation in Budapest. The only solution left for the refugees there is to frikkin WALK to Austria 🙁

When the train to Belgrade came into the station, I first only saw it as a “graffiti artist’s wet dream”. the whole train was spray-painted. Until I realized it was the train from Belgrade to Subotica, the last Serbian station near the now closed border to Hungary. And the train was more than full.

Trains of hope… or hopelessness.