Budapest: Somali refugees face winter struggle

Budapest: Somali refugees face winter struggle

Abdurrahman* has dodged bullets in his native Mogadishu and endured tremendous hardship to reach Europe, but he says nothing has been as bad as his experiences in the Hungarian capital.

"This has been the worst week of my life," the young Somali refugee, clutching a cup of coffee in his freezing hands, told  UNHCR visitors who ran into him sitting on a bench in a downtown Budapest square and took him to a nearby café.

Like many other Somalis granted asylum status in Hungary, Abdurrahman did not realize that European Union regulations allowed him to visit other states for up to 30 days but not to settle there. He joined relatives in Britain, but was detained and sent back to Budapest last December under the so-called Dublin II regulation. This requires asylum seekers to remain in the country where they apply for asylum, which is normally their first point of entry into Europe.

Those sent back to Budapest often find that they face difficulties finding housing and have lost some benefits, including an integration grant equivalent to about 620 euros. They can apply for social security benefit of 100 euros per month, but it takes time to process the request.

With winter upon us, time is something that many of them can't afford. UNHCR believes that up to 50 Somalis are living in a precarious situation, either forced to sleep rough or in shelters for the homeless. Many must resort to begging.

With the onset of winter, their welfare has become a matter of serious concern to UNHCR, which last month called on the Hungarian government and the city authorities to take emergency measures to help the homeless refugees.

"We need an immediate solution for the refugees in Hungary as temperatures are dropping below zero [degrees Centigrade]," warned Gottfried Köfner, UNHCR's Budapest-based regional representative. "The government has to look at the structural shortcomings of an integration system that leaves refugees in such distress, with no effective opportunity to find a job, a house or live in dignity in Hungary," he added.

Abdurrahman's experience in Europe mirrors that of many of his compatriots. After first arriving in Hungary and getting recognition as refugees, they are usually transferred to a special centre in Bicske, west of Budapest, which provides them with lessons in Hungarian and other integration support.

They spend up to six months in Bicske and then they are more or less on their own. It is at this stage that many decide to move to other countries, especially the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom. 


Source: AlertNet (English)

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