Hungarian authorities prevent porta-potties being delivered to “no man’s land”

June 6, 2016

“Here stand two countries in the 21st century (Hungary and Serbia) that are not at war with each other but are nevertheless incapable of solving the problem of helping these people stay in the area in a more humane and less humiliating condition – regardless of who they are, their skin color, their origin, whether they are fleeing war, or why they happen to be there.” – Rev. Gábor Iványi

Rev. Gábor Iványi, president of the Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood, took a trip to Röszke and Tompa Saturday to set up four portable chemical toilets in the “no man’s land” along the Hungary-Serbia border. The “porta potties” would have been for the benefit of hundreds of asylum seekers stranded in “no man’s land” if not for the unwillingness of Hungarian authorities.

Iványi announced plans to set up the porta-potties at a press breakfast in Budapest on Wednesday. According to Iványi, he notified government ministers Sándor Pintér and Zoltán Balog of his plans days before he would transport the toilets.

Photo: Zsolt Reviczky (Népszabadság)
Photo: Zsolt Reviczky (Népszabadság)

Iványi said neither Minister of the Interior Pintér nor Imre Deák, Minister of Human Resources Balog’s chief of staff, responded.

According to Deák, the government decided at its May 16 meeting to call on the Karitatív Tanács (“Council of Charities”) to manage all humanitarian affairs resulting from “mass immigration” in coordination with Hungarian authorities.

The Council of Charities consists of government-selected charitable organizations, including the Hungarian Catholic Charity, Hungarian Ecumenical Aid, Hungarian Maltese Aid, Hungarian Red Cross, Hungarian Reformed Aid and Hungarian Baptist Aid.

According to online daily nol.hu, in his response to Iványi’s letter, Deák thanked him for notifying the ministry and offering to help, but neglected to inform the religious leader that no such help is needed.  Instead, it implied that if any humanitarian work needs to be done, it would be done by those entrusted with the tasks by the government.

Apparently, such tasks did not include providing public sanitation facilities to the thousands of asylum seekers trapped in the vacuum between Serbia and Hungary. This is precisely why Oltalom Karitatív Egyesület, an NGO associated with Iványi’s church, tried to help.

The Council of Charities was nowhere to be seen last year when the refugee crisis peaked in Hungary and thousands of asylum seekers were stranded at railway stations around the country. Their plight became so visible that members of the public began distributing aid, providing clothing and medical attention to them.

According to Iványi, he approached the leaders of several large religious organizations to discuss the situation but none of them actually went to the border to help.

Oltalom Karitatív Egyesület’s volunteers showed up only to have a local police commander tell them they could distribute food but would not be allowed to set up the porta-potties.

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Photo: Zsolt Reviczky (Népszabadság)

A higher ranked police official arrived soon after the arrival of the volunteers and informed them that the porta-potties could not be set up because of a bilateral agreement between Hungary and Serbia that prevents any physical building from being constructed in the area. The volunteers were restricted from putting the porta-potties on the Hungarian side of the border fence and would have needed separate permission from Serbian authorities to set them up on the Serbian side.

Iványi tried to convince the law enforcement official that the conditions where the asylum seekers are camped out is very unsanitary and inhumane because the asylum seekers are forced to relieve themselves in their immediate surroundings. The official agreed but said he could not change the rules.

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Photo: Zsolt Reviczky (Népszabadság)

The official did, however, allow the volunteers to distribute food and aid to the asylum seekers camped out in front of the transit zone.

The volunteers eventually crossed over to the Serbian side before being turned back by a single Serbian police officer. Eventually, a few Serbian officials came over to the group and exchanged business cards with Iványi. According to the Serbian officials, it wouldn’t be possible to set up the porta-potties on their side either.

Iványi was not dismayed. He said he was happy that at least he had the opportunity to establish new connections while down at the border. He has ideas on how to improve the situation, he said. One is to create an opening in the border fence that leads to some porta-potties.

According to medieval thought, Iványi said, God created room for the physical world by sucking in His stomach. If one would follow this line of reasoning, it would follow that the Hungarian state should suck in its stomach to help make this situation a bit better.

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Photo: Zsolt Reviczky (Népszabadság)

Iványi also suggested that ditches should be dug and tent-like restrooms be constructed as makeshift outhouses because this, too, is better than people relieving themselves wherever they please.

When asked what he made of the situation, Iványi said that here stand two countries in the 21st century that are not at war with each other but are nevertheless incapable of solving the problem of helping these people stay in the area in a more humane and less humiliating condition – regardless of who they are, their skin color, their origin, whether they are fleeing war, or why they happen to be there.

According to Iványi, if a problem like this is so impossible to resolve in Europe today, and if it is so impossible to allow others to help resolve an inhumane problem like this, then there is absolutely no problem that can be resolved.