Religious leaders convene to discuss Hungary’s treatment of refugees

October 11, 2017

Religious leaders convene to discuss Hungary's treatment of refugees

The Bishop of Vác, Miklós Beer, has spoken out against differentiating between Christian and Muslim asylum-seekers, in a move highlighting divisions within the Hungarian Catholic Church, a close ally of the ruling Fidesz party.

“There are some borders that cannot be crossed, and that is the border of humanity,” said Beer, speaking to a packed audience at a panel hosted by the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ) in Budapest’s historic Jewish quarter Tuesday night.

The panel brought together Beer, Evangelical pastor Márta Bolba, and MAZSIHISZ chief rabbi István Darvas, with journalist Anita Élő of the conservative print weekly Heti Válasz moderating the conversation.

With the exception of the majority of the leadership of the Hungarian Catholic Church, most major Hungarian religious groups have spoken out in recent days against the xenophobia displayed in the village of Őcsény, where residents threatened a guesthouse owner who planned to host refugees with legal asylum status in Hungary for a short vacation.

“Why are we looking for a thousand reasons why we are not doing something,” said Beer, adding that people should be looking for solutions and ways to help refugees with integration. The bishop pointed to Christians’ religious wars in Europe as a parallel to battles in the Middle East, and quoted Muslim friends as saying that Jihad’s original meaning in the Quran is being misinterpreted.

“Every religious system can be manipulated,” said Beer. According to the bishop, a “senseless fear” is created when people hear about terrorists and generalize about a whole population. “We don’t know one another,” he said of Hungarians and Muslim refugees.

“It really bothers me that, well, Christian refugees can come but Muslims cannot come. Well, I don’t know what Jesus Christ would say about that,” he said.

The religious leaders criticized the state of fear in the country.

“I won’t say if [refugees] are staying with us or not, because my tires would be slashed, or even things will be thrown […] we got to the point where it’s already dangerous. To talk is also dangerous,” said Bolba. “We have a super secret refugee program,” she said.

Bolba emphasized that in 1947, when the Lutheran World Federation was established, one in six Lutherans were refugees.

While Beer and Bolba openly spoke out against the current treatment of refugees in Hungary, with Bolba in particular focusing on the government’s decision not to provide support for refugees’ integration, Darvas shied away from making concrete statements on government policy, centering his remarks on old Judaic teachings.

The panel’s discussion, which ran over an hour, focused solely on the issue of refugees and how religious leaders see the crisis— and the Hungarian population’s fears— from a theological perspective.

Nevertheless, while the border fence, the closure of refugee camps inside Hungary, and withdrawal of integration aid were all discussed, what refugees and watchdogs describe as systemic violence against refugees by Hungarian police personnel on the border, including beatings, went without mention.