Miskolc, Hungary 65 Roma, who requested asylum in Switzerland, are back in their hometown in the northeast of Hungary. Understanding and compassion are hard to find here.
The apartment looks unchanged, as if its inhabitants had never left. As if they hadn’t sold their entire belongings only a month before to set sail for the unknown. The seating area has been set up in the corner, the table centered in the room. The coffee maker is brewing and a continuously running flat-screen TV is mounted on the wall. He was very lucky to be able to get all his furniture back, says Laszlo Glamb. And for a good price at that, “but nevertheless, I’m in debt again.” And the worries have also returned: Will the social welfare be paid next month? Will there be enough money to pay rent? Or – will the bailiff and police be standing on the doorstep soon, taking what little we have left?
In the evening of October 19th, 37-year-old Laszlo, his wife Anita and their five children boarded a rental car with other Roma families and left their hometown Miskolc in North Hungary to request asylum in Switzerland. Their houses in a former worker’s housing estate where the streets only have numbers, not names, are scheduled to be demolished. The municipality plans to extend the soccer stadium and establish a huge parking lot on the estate area. Many families received notice of termination; some houses have already been demolished. Roma families also complain about discrimination and racism by public authorities and the extreme right-wing party Jobbik. Job vacancies are sparse in the area – and even if there are available job offers, Roma people don’t stand a chance in the application process.
The mayor remains silent
The car brought 65 asylum applicants to the reception centre Vallorbe in western Switzerland where they were separated and send to Krezlingen or Basel. Their applications were processed in an accelerated procedure by the Federal Agency of Migration and Refugees (BAMF): First, the Roma people were given a chance to explain the reasons for their journey. Then the officials ensured the applicants that they had no chance of asylum due to the fact that they are EU-citizens. They all returned to Miskolc about 14 days ago. “We’re all very upset, of course”, says Galamb: “But there was a small chance of a better life. Here, at home, we don’t even have that.” Galamb speaks of the rumor that one of the estate’s citizens has committed suicide out of pure desperation.
The federal agency’s notice is lying on the table, stating that all reasons given were not asylum-relevant facts: “You are legally obliged to leave Switzerland.” The document is written in German, the Roma cannot read it. The Galambs spend over two weeks in the reception and procedure centre in Basel, which is often criticized by advisory organizations and media for overcrowding, insufficient medical care and rude security staff. But for the first time in his life, Laszlo Galamb felt “taken seriously as a human being.“ Everyone at the centre had treated them with respect and the security staff had played soccer with the kids in the courtyard. Yes, nods 8-year-old daughter Bianca, Switzerland had been lovely.
The journey back commenced via airplane to Budapest, followed by the train ride to Miskolc. The traveling expenses were borne by the BAMF while the International Organization for Migration (IOM), who had been appointed by the BAMF to accompany the migrants, took care of the booking. Despite of their organizational help, the home comers aren’t happy with the procedures of the IOM. One of the IOM’s employees allegedly promised them housing and jobs in Budapest. “To stay in Hungary but not have to live in Miskolc – that would be the best outcome for us”, says Sandor Lakatos, one of the Galamb’s neighbors, who had also traveled to the reception centre in Basel with his wife.
In belief of a new life in the capitol, the Roma signed the waiver of the right to object to the refusal of asylum. Afterwards, all they were handed was a page with the addresses of government ancillary facilities in Hungary. Galamb and Lakatos felt “cheated.” The Head of the IOM Switzerland, Katharina Schnöring, stated that the Roma were neither promised jobs nor housing. The colleague in Basel had “repeatedly pointed out that, as EU citizens, they had no entitlement to return assistance.” Merely a mother with her nine children was placed into a temporary refuge in Hungary by the IOM.
One week upon their return, Laszlo and Anita Galamb sought out the bureau of urban property management in Miskolc. They inquired if they would be offered an alternative residence after the demolition of their house. The official is surprisingly kind but doesn’t give them much hope. The waiting list for municipal housing is much too long. “Do you feel that you are being wronged?”, asks the woman at the counter: In that case, complaints must be addressed to the mayor’s office.
But Mayor Akos Kriza chooses not to speak of this topic. Not with the Roma and not with the international press. Even if the latter is camped out in front of his office. Kriza, a party colleague of the head of the government, Viktor Orban, doesn’t have time for this matter. His visibly annoyed press spokeswoman gets the vice mayor instead. Peter Pfliegler speaks German fluently and vociferously reminds the journalist to only write the truth. Then the vice mayor speaks of great gratitude for the 1.2 million francs which Miskolc received from the Swiss enlargement contribution: “We were able to clean two streams with that money, renew the river banks and even save the frogs. These are important activities for our ecology.” The municipal administration hadn’t been aware of the Roma’s exodus, says Pfliegler: “We do not send anyone away.”
“He was so depressed”
Yet, there is still tension and fear within the houses of the numbered streets. The government of Orban has administered a moratorium for the winter months: Nobody is to be thrown out of their home until the 15th of March, 2015. But many Roma don’t know this. Jozsefne Molnar believes that she has to leave her house at the beginning of December and is in despair: she is planning to put her furniture on the street in the upcoming week and await the outcome: “I have nowhere to go and the municipality isn’t speaking to us.”
Vice mayor Pfliegler confirms that the residential estate it to be demolished in the years to come: “It is unsuitable for living.” Everyone in possession of a proper rental contract will receive 2.5 million forint (about 10 000 francs) to buy a new house in another community, says Pfliegler. But there is no mention of this offer in the termination letters. Furthermore, no one would voluntarily move to the province. The poverty and desperation in run-down villages like Vilmany are often even greater than in the city.
Piroska Forizs must vacate her home in May. She has no perspective for her and her five children’s future. Yes, she confirms the estate’s rumor; her husband has committed suicide the week before. “He was so depressed, day in and day out. He didn’t know how to go on.” The two eldest sons had found their father one morning, hanged in front of the house, she says. Now, the delicate woman is carrying two filled plastic bags across the street. She has spent her last money on the grocery shopping, which the family has to get by with for one whole week. Maybe more.