Jack Mallon reports on the shocking scenes in Budapest, as the refugee crisis forces Western Europeans into a revision of our morals and priorities.
“I was told that Budapest was one of Europe’s most beautiful cities – famous for its native dish goulash, its wonderfully preserved history and its vibrant night life. Going off on an adventure, I thought that this would be an eye-opening experience through a foreign culture. An opportunity to forget the stress I was building up before beginning university.
But to my horror, in the space of a week my entire understanding of worry and stress would be flipped upside down. For I am stressed about my dissertation, my job prospects, my future earnings – NOT about surviving the night. On the third day of my holiday I encountered an exhausted middle aged man in my hostel. When I asked if he had a long trip I got more than I bargained for. In what little English he spoke he told me of his journey from Kabul to Istanbul, over 4,400km long. During the course of the conversation he broke down in tears; from a combination of sorrow at the deaths of four family members during the journey, and of frustration that the journey might have been futile all along.
The following day I ventured out to Budapest railway station to buy a return ticket. Yet again I got more than I bargained for. The sight of a young mother holding her four children on top of a single blanket for comfort was just the beginning. Most of us only understand the desperation of the refugees through the ever growing statistics which we are fed on the evening news. I now think of the under-nourished man running with two children in his arms and another young child struggling desperately to keep up as the train doors were slammed shut.
The home office reports that since 2011, Britain has accepted 5000 asylum applications from Syrian refugees. The Conservative government increased the acceptable number of refugees to 20,000. When one compares this to the 800,000 Germany is willing to accept, or the 110,000 in Italy, or the 80,000 whom Sweden, it is clear we’re not doing our fair share. As a British citizen, I have to say, that by taking this hard line approach our government is surrendering much of Britain’s moral influence in European and Global politics. When we wish to make a case for our national interests in the future European community, we will have surrendered much of our moral bargaining power through our reaction to this crisis. If we have no other reason to justify admitting more refugees to David Cameron, then shouldn’t that be enough.”