Risking Arrest, Thousands Of Hungarians Offer Help To Refugees : Parallels Hungarian laws criminalizing the offer of rides to people who enter the country illegally are aimed at traffickers — but are making some ordinary Hungarians think twice about helping asylum seekers.
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Risking Arrest, Thousands Of Hungarians Offer Help To Refugees

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Risking Arrest, Thousands Of Hungarians Offer Help To Refugees

Risking Arrest, Thousands Of Hungarians Offer Help To Refugees

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

In Hungary, it is illegal to offer rides or shelter to the migrants and refugees streaming through the country. The law is supposed to target human traffickers and smugglers, but it's making some volunteers think twice. They're worried that if they help the asylum-seekers, they could face prosecution. Lauren Frayer sent this report from Budapest.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: These days, driving in rural Hungary, especially at night, you're likely to migrants and refugees emerging from the shadows, trudging down the side of the road. A group of Iraqi men flagged down my car asking for help.

ADNAN JABER: Come to help us to reach any city - nearest city.

FRAYER: Adnan Jaber has been hiding in the forest by day and walking by night. He crossed the border illegally from Serbia, so he could be arrested and sent to jail in Hungary. But giving this tired refugee a lift to the nearest town is also illegal under Hungarian law, so most cars whiz past and don't stop.

Back in Budapest, volunteers stockpile crates of fruit and sleeping bags for refugees.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: ...Diapers, we got blankets, tents.

FRAYER: Gyorgy Goldschmit is one of dozens of Hungarians who stop by to help. His wife and child will be out of town for a few weeks. He could house another family, he says.

GYORGY GOLDSCHMIT: My family is not going to be there and I will be there, so it's kind of obvious that someone could come.

FRAYER: But the charity he's come to, Migration Aid, can't arrange that because it could be prosecuted for sheltering refugees.

GOLDSCHMIT: Maybe they cannot help like this because that would be considered as helping illegally or trafficking or - but I don't - I don't care so much, so...

FRAYER: You're not afraid?

GOLDSCHMIT: No.

FRAYER: Many Hungarians are not afraid, and thousands are helping, but it's unclear how many more are dissuaded by these laws. Earlier this year, a Hungarian man was arrested for using a local rideshare website to give lifts to refugees.

MARTA PARDAVI: If I just drive you across and you don't have a visa then I'm liable criminally.

FRAYER: Marta Pardavi is a human rights lawyer with the Helsinki Committee.

PARDAVI: We, for example, have advised volunteers who are doing this that there is a risk involved - the risk of a criminal procedure, of having to go to interrogations. And I think that risk is very real.

FRAYER: But down by the Serbian border, Austrian volunteer Hans Breuer offers free rides to Syrian families. He's trying to avoid the police, and he says it's worth the risk.

HANS BREUER: My father was a refugee 70 years ago. Half of his family was killed by the Nazis. Today, the Nazis is Islamic State, you know, and the Jews are the Syrians running away. It's the same situation, and a lot what we see here remains as very much those years.

FRAYER: He offers a ride to Judy al-Shtawi and her siblings. The young Syrian asks me if she should get into Breuer's car.

JUDY AL-SHTAWI: I don't know. We are afraid. But, he's here.

FRAYER: You're afraid to get into a car with a strange man.

AL-SHTAWI: It's difficult and interesting.

FRAYER: He says he wants to help you.

AL-SHTAWI: He don't want no money, no nothing?

FRAYER: She's not accustomed to such kindness and opts for a Hungarian detention camp instead. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Budapest.

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