I was a stranger and you did not receive me

Some governments in Europe are raving against foreigners, economic immigrants as they like to call them. They try not to be so inhumane as to exclude refugees, but in effect they are: they do mean to exclude anyone who’s trying to cross their border. This becomes apparent the moment you walk up to the border and meet the immigration authorities.

Some days ago, in an absurd and rather unpolished move, the Hungarian government posted a number of billboards telling immigrants to stay away. An example: “If you come to Hungary, you must not take away our jobs!” (Hungarian language uses exclamation marks more often than English.) Or:  “If you come to Hungary, you must respect our culture!” Which made me exclaim, culture my backside. What culture is it that tells strangers off without hesitation, without respect to individual human life?

The absurdity of this campaign is that all the billboards are in Hungarian, which makes it practically impossible for the newcomers to understand them. It becomes clear that the messages are being sent to the Hungarian public, in order to whip up as much xenophobic and racist sentiment as possible.

What’s even more absurd that Hungary is not a typical country you would want to immigrate to. Nearly all refugees who enter the European Union through Hungary intend to move on as soon as they can. So, the Hungarian government must take care of a few thousand refugees at a time, and most of the costs are covered by the EU.

Although the billboards are obviously directed at the Hungarian population, the government made it clear that they do plan to act against refugees, or ‘illegal immigrants’, to use their term.

This is inhumane and goes against international treaties. Refugees escaping a war or a regime where their lives are not safe, cannot come ‘legally’ – where they come from, there is no law and order; neither is there public administration that could issue passports our countries would accept. They will always be prone to fall victim to people smuggling, or, what’s worse, human trafficking, which makes them victims (on several accounts) rather than perpetrators. They deserve to be assisted, not detained and sent back.

You know why such xenophobic anti-immigration campaigns are so sinister? Because governments that run them usually fashion themselves as ‘conservative’ and ‘Christian’. They are brandishing Bibles, and use them to slap the refugees back where they came from.

This doesn’t make the Bible wrong, though. The title of this post comes from Matthew 25,43: Jesus says that the care for strangers is one of the core virtues that earns salvation for a person. Refusing that, one “will depart into eternal punishment” (Matthew 25,46).

I have a weird conteo about this, too: maybe our government wants others to retaliate, and send home the hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who left the country since 2010, and as immigrants, live and work abroad.

In Hungary, many people, including some opposition figures, have been protesting against the campaign. Some went and defaced the billboards, or even tore them down. Police arrested them, either because they turned themselves in, or they were captured by undercover agents who have been watching the billboards 24/7. (Yes, Hungarian police is now spying on protesters – again, just like in the good old times.)

I had a bad feeling about this. Not just about the billboard campaign – I detested it, that much was obvious –, but about the protests, too. These people were right to protest of course. But how does this help the actual refugee who’d been brought to Hungary by sheer bad luck, and then mistreated by Hungarian authorities?

In situations like this, it’s not enough to protest. You must do something useful about it, too.

If you are an employer, make sure you employ a foreigner or two. My company has two foreigners on the payroll in Hungary. It’s true they don’t come from any of the dangerous parts of the world, and it’s true we didn’t hire them because they were mistreated. But they still have to deal with Hungarian immigration authorities, which is ordeal enough.

If you’re a teacher or a schoolmaster, invite a refugee to class, so that pupils can learn they don’t pose a threat.

If you’re in the media, make sure that refugees are publicly heard.

If you’re neither, simply be friendly with refugees, and be open to help them should they ask you.

And if you belong to an authority or another – resign. In today’s Hungary, this is the only thing you can do to preserve your integrity.

UPDATE: On June 17, 2015, the Hungarian government announced they plan to erect a 4 meter (13 feet) high fence along the Serbo-Hungarian border. They are not saying if it will be electrified, but it’s all wrong even without that. What’s more, the far-right Jobbik party, while agreeing to the fence, started demanding imprisonment of refugees who still get through.

The Hungarian government deserves the harshest criticism and contempt for the move, especially as they profess to be Christian, with a Calvinist minister “serving” as the minister for “human resources” (that covers labor, education, and health care). Refusing to help refugees goes against fundamental Christian values, and, for that matter, elementary moral principles (not to mention the international treaties that guarantee such help).

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