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21 March 2018

The Hungary Helps Initiative – A Hungarian Face of Solidarity

"... the focus is, rather than spending the same amount in Europe for immigration related initiatives, to spend it in the crisis area where the value of the same sum of money is four to five times higher, enabling more efficient help. This is how Hungary is present in the Middle East and Africa, in school and hospital construction initiatives, humanitarian work and scholarship programmes, proportional to its size and economic capacities."


One of the most crucial phenomena of our times is mass migration, for which we have to find sustainable and coherent answers, even within Europe. Hungary, taking into account the demographic trends in the sending states and the general regional crisis, rejects plans such as the quota system, which provide only symptomatic and inefficient treatment for this global challenge and facilitate the continuous migration. On the contrary, the Hungarian government’s position is to protect its sovereignty with necessary internal measures (e.g. protection of its borders), moreover, to provide efficient and “smart” help by tackling the problem at the roots. This means that Hungary pursues a policy of humanitarian help and international development which, within the framework of the Hungary Helps Initiative, provides help in the crisis areas themselves, where millions have been forced to leave their homes. Hence, the focus is, rather than spending the same amount in Europe for immigration related initiatives, to spend it in the crisis area where the value of the same sum of money is four to five times higher, enabling more efficient help. This is how Hungary is present in the Middle East and Africa, in school and hospital construction initiatives, humanitarian work and scholarship programmes, proportional to its size and economic capacities.

The entrance of Hungary into the European Union in 2004, the experiences of membership and global changes require us to permanently reconsider our international development goals and humanitarian aspirations as organic elements of Hungarian foreign policy. In order to participate efficiently in these activities as a responsible member of the global community, it is highly important to step up with solid intent and to follow certain strategic trends. Therefore, an international development and humanitarian strategy was created by the government for the 2014–2020 period, focusing on global poverty, inequality, sustainable development and promotion of human rights. This is the framework which allows Hungary to fulfil its international undertakings, under the coordination of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and in cooperation with the recently established interdepartmental commission responsible for international development. An important part of this strategy was the establishment – by the Ministry of Human Capacities at the end of 2016 – of the Deputy State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians, which not only maintains relations with the affected communities’ leaders or represents them internationally, but also coordinates the governmental assistance directed towards them, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Hungary Helps Initiative was created by the Hungarian government for the coordination of these activities and to streamline communication. In accordance with the government’s decree of August 2017, the Initiative encompasses the totality of all these undertakings, and its purpose is to help, through an ambassador-at-large, the efficient harmonisation of the work of different departments, and to strengthen the Hungarian presence on the international stage in this field.

The Hungary Helps Initiative pursues at the same time a “smart help” policy for the management of migration crisis, and fights the silence in politics and the media about the persecution of Christians in the Western world. This includes not only embracing the cause of these communities, but also offering them direct help.

In 2015 Hungary’s government contributed 102 million euros in aid in these areas, within the framework of multilateral cooperation and nearly 43 million euros within bilateral assistance programmes.

To perform immigration-related tasks, the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta, the Hungarian Interchurch Aid and the Hungarian Red Cross were given a grant in total of 644 thousand euros.

In 2016 the amount of multilateral support reached 103.5 million euros, while the budget of the bilateral cooperation was 49.5 million euros. In 2017 the amount of support allocated, through the Deputy State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians, to Christian communities of the Middle East exceeded 7 million euros.

Hungary allocated 26.7 million euros to the support of sending and transit countries, from 2014 to 2016 by bilateral and multilateral actions, and in 2017 within the framework of bilateral international development and humanitarian actions.

For years, Hungary has been supporting with financial contributions the UN’s specialised organisations’ international development and humanitarian actions. In addition to the aforementioned aid programmes, Hungary contributed to the UN’s World Food Programme with more than 1 million euros, in order to manage the food crisis in Yemen and East Africa. Significant amounts were allocated within EU frameworks as well, to create more stable living conditions in the affected sending countries: an aid of 700 thousand euros to the EU Trust Fund for Africa, 3 million euros to the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis (MADAD fund), and 14.6 million euros to the FRIT (Facility for Refugees in Turkey).

Even though the official development supports are provided on a multilateral basis (on 6 December 2016 our country became the 30th member of the OECD DAC [Development Assistance Committee], thus every report is approved by this organisation as well), overall, it can be stated that bilateral support is growing as well.

Since fast and efficient help must be based on communication with the concerned local communities, in each month of 2017 Hungary welcomed one leader of Christian communities in the crisis areas.

The most significant action element of the Initiative in the Middle East was the Iraqi one, which began at the end of 2016 (and is to be wound up in 2018). It complemented donations by the Hungarian Catholic Church supporting the construction by the Chaldean Catholic Church of a school for refugee children, with 387 thousand euros (in addition to the Church’s 285 thousand euros), in the Ankawa district of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This institution soon will reach full capacity providing education to more than 600 refugee children, Christians and Muslims alike. In the same region, Hungary Helps covered the costs of medical care provided at St Joseph Hospital in the past six months, which is a unique example in a country where healthcare must be paid by everyone. In addition, as agreed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Chaldean Catholic patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, the government undertook to finance the reconstruction of a locality named Tell-Asquf on the Niniveh plateau. Since then more than a thousand families were able to return there, and in December 2017 the inauguration ceremony of the locality’s church was held as well. In this region the Hungarian Interchurch Aid provides help to refugees wishing to stay or to return home, through the office operating in Erbil and the Centre Supporting the Return opened in Bashiqa, near Mosul.

In addition to these initiatives, Hungary has provided in the past few years rapid bilateral help in the region of 70 thousand euros to the Kurdistan authorities to help Iraqi refugees. Additionally, Hungary provided direct financial support of around 326 thousand euros to help Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to manage the migration crisis. In Lebanon and Syria, the Syrian Catholic and Orthodox Churches’ humanitarian actions were supported respectively by 1 million euros within the framework of the Initiative which contributed to the assistance provided in the refugee camps and to the development of educational institutions and hospitals in these two countries. Furthermore, the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta operates a health and psychosocial programme in Lebanon, and the reconstruction of more than 30 churches was commenced with Hungarian support, in cooperation with Pázmány Péter Catholic University and Kaslik Holy Spirit University. This is also important because due to this assistance, the local Christian communities are strengthened as well. The latest agreement concerning the region was concluded on 20 December 2017 when Prime Minister Viktor Orbán welcomed the Greek-Melkita bishop Jean-Clément Jeanbar from Aleppo, and it was decided that Hungary will support the persecuted Syrian Christian communities, the return projects and school constructions with 2 million euros.

Hungary is also present with initiatives in sub-Saharan African regions. These include the sanitary project in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es-Salaam managed by the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta, including the construction of a high capacity hygiene block and a water collector of ten thousand litres supplying 1,200 students with water. Another example is the water conservation development programme realised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Kinshasa, executed in cooperation with the Hungarian Foundation for Africa, which indirectly solved the problem of clean water supply for 15,000 people. Besides, according to the agreement concluded following the visit to Budapest of Oliver Dashe Doeme, bishop of Maidugur, the Hungary Helps Initiative contributes to the reconstruction of three schools and a hospital in the Maidugur region of Northern Nigeria, recently liberated from the control of the Boko Haram extremist terrorist organisation.

Furthermore, scholarships shall be awarded by the Initiative: the Stipendium Hungaricum, for students from around 50 countries, nearly half of them affected by the immigration crisis, e.g. Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia. In the academic year of 2017–2018 the number of the SH students exceeded 6,400. Hungary became one of the biggest scholarship donors in certain countries of sub-Saharan Africa due to the Stipendium Hungaricum. Another, more modest scholarship programme, the Scholarship for Young Christian People, is targeted at persecuted and discriminated young Christians living in crisis areas. Some 87 young people were given a scholarship for the academic year 2017–2018, of whom 67 began their studies last September in Hungarian universities, with full state scholarship, at bachelor, master or doctoral training. Both scholarships contribute to the following: the students coming from developing countries or crisis areas will return to their home with a diploma or profession and help the development of their countries with the knowledge and skills they will have acquired.

As the above examples indicate, the Initiative does not exclusively help Christian communities in the crisis areas but gives them increased protection. And the Initiative is conducted less by religious considerations, but rather by the spirit of respect for human rights. These communities with more than two thousand years of traditions will be able to enrich the region’s diversity only if they get the necessary assistance, since they are at risk of suffering discrimination or persecution for their faith, in addition to the humanitarian crisis. The sad fact of the 21st century is that the Christian religion is one of the most persecuted religions. Therefore Hungary, as a country with Christian roots, considers important from the point of view of cultural and human rights to attenuate the tragedy and embrace the cause of these defenceless communities, which are rarely mentioned in the international media. This is the reason why the position of a Deputy State Secretary for the Aid of Persecuted Christians was created in the Hungarian government. It is also why a conference was organised in Budapest in October 2017 dealing with persecution of Christians, as reported in the November and January issues of Hungarian Review. Hungarian government members, politicians, leaders of Churches from the Middle East and Africa, and representatives of civil organisations from all over the world participated in the event. The “Budapest Declaration” accepted by the delegates denounces Christian persecution in the world and champions the cause of universal religious freedom.

Hungary is committed, within its capabilities, to continue and develop the work started within the framework of the Hungary Helps Initiative in order to create new cooperations with new partners, to search for long-term solutions for the migration crisis, solutions that in our belief do not result in the import of the problems into Europe, but start by taking the help to the crisis areas.




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