Hungarian camp houses Ukrainian Roma refugees

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Editor’s Note: In late May, a team from United Methodist News, the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries visited church refugee ministries in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and western Ukraine to share stories of the United Methodist presence in the wake of such tragedy and ongoing need. UM News has agreed to use first names only for some of those interviewed to protect their safety.


Key points:

  • At the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about 800,000 refugees crossed through Hungary, many of them headed to Western Europe.
  • The United Methodist Church in Hungary has helped to house hundreds of refugees fleeing the war, including at a summer camp. 
  • Many of the families living at the camp are Roma, a historically marginalized ethnic minority in Europe. 

The Rev. László A. Khaled, district superintendent of The United Methodist Church in Hungary, said that at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, about 800,000 refugees crossed through his country. Many were headed to Western Europe, so their needs were short-term.

“People left rapidly and sometimes we just received a call that they are at the border and needed beds for three, five, six people for a few days,” he said. “The Methodist Church Center was the biggest refugee center in Budapest, but local congregations were involved as well.”

Thanks to a $10,000 solidarity grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Khaled said the church could act immediately to help refugees when the war started. They helped families with clothes, food and shelter, and tried to help buy medicine or help obtain official documentation, since many refugees fled Ukraine without documents or identification.

Manuel, Moses and Renatta are staying with the rest of their family at the United Methodist Dorcas church camp in Debrecen, Hungary, after fleeing the war in Ukraine. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
Manuel, Moses and Renatta are staying with the rest of their family at the United Methodist Dorcas church camp in Debrecen, Hungary, after fleeing the war in Ukraine. .
Tibor Jakusch (right) and Robert, who fled the war in Ukraine with his family, load relief supplies for other refugees that were collected at Debrecen (Hungary) United Methodist Church. Jakusch pastors a house church for some two dozen Roma families living in the Mosonmagyaróvár area. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
Tibor Jakusch (right) and Robert, who fled the war in Ukraine with his family, load relief supplies for other refugees that were collected at Debrecen (Hungary) United Methodist Church. Jakusch pastors a house church for some two dozen Roma families living in the Mosonmagyaróvár area.

In addition to solidarity grants for emergency assistance to arriving refugees and to cover the cost of the Hungarian church’s regular deliveries of supplies to Ukraine, UMCOR is working with partner ACT Alliance to provide 20,000 people in Hungary with essentials like hygiene items, shelter, food and psychosocial support.

The church in Hungary has helped to house hundreds of refugees fleeing the war. One of those places is Dorcas Summer Camp, where about 178 are living. The camp is run by the municipal government, but the church helps place refugees and provides support. Refugee families get three prepared meals a day, cleaning materials and clothing. House coordinators help refugees seeking documents.

Viktória Ősz-Kiss, the camp’s project coordinator, said they are a different organization, “because we don’t give just food or clothes but we also organize programs,” adding that some churches visit the camp and lead spiritual programs. They have organized kindergarten classes and in July, launched a “catch-up” educational program for the children with support from UNICEF.

Eva, who fled the war in Ukraine, unloads donated food and sanitary supplies at the United Methodist Dorcas church camp. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
Eva, who fled the war in Ukraine, unloads donated food and sanitary supplies at the United Methodist Dorcas church camp.
Children who fled the war in Ukraine play at the United Methodist Dorcas church camp, where their families have been given shelter. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
Children who fled the war in Ukraine play at the United Methodist Dorcas church camp, where their families have been given shelter.

Many of the families living at the camp are Roma, a historically marginalized ethnic minority in Europe. Transcarpathia is a region in southwestern Ukraine where much of the country’s Hungarian minority and Roma population live. Roughly 90% live below the poverty line, according to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights. Because many of the Roma children at the camp cannot read or write, Ősz-Kiss said, the catch-up program is necessary.

“The Roma population has historically been disadvantaged or even persecuted in Europe over the centuries. Actual access to services throughout the region by Roma refugees is purportedly unequal,” said the Rev. Jack Amick, director of global migration for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Video: Helping house Ukrainian refugees

The United Methodist Church in Hungary has helped to house hundreds of refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, many of them belonging to the Roma community, a historically marginalized ethnic minority in Europe. UM News met Robert, a lay pastor in the Roma community living at a camp with his family. Video by Francisco Litardo for UM News.

Khaled introduced UM News to Robert, a lay pastor in the Roma community in Debrecen who lives with his wife and five children in a small cottage at Dorcas Camp.

How to help

A box for offerings hangs from the sanctuary door at Nyíregyháza (Hungary) United Methodist Church. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
A box for offerings hangs from the sanctuary door at Nyíregyháza (Hungary) United Methodist Church.

To donate, please give to UMCOR’s International Disaster Response and Recovery fund, Advance #982450, or UMCOR Global Migration, Advance # 3022144.

Robert was in an accident that damaged his vocal cords and affected his ability to speak. Khaled said the church is trying to help him get an operation. Though he cannot speak, he is still able to preach: His wife, Renatta, serves as his translator.

Tibor Jakusch, who leads a United Methodist house worship group working with the Roma community in Mosonmagyaróvár, has also hosted Roma families in his home.

“A lot of Roma arrive from poor backgrounds, so for them to find jobs and create a new life is not easy. We have to help them and we ask God to follow us in spirit,” he said.

Jakusch said there is a great need in Hungary for workers, but the Roma refugees often lack the kinds of skills that the employers are seeking. However, he added, refugees from Transcarpathia can speak Hungarian, so they are received perhaps more favorably.

Helping residents find work is one of the priorities at Dorcas Camp. Ősz-Kiss said that outside companies regularly visit and offer possibilities for work. As a result, she said, 70% of the men living there now have jobs.

“They do not just want to survive,” Khaled said. “They would like to find a job and an apartment to rent in order to stand on their own feet. They would like to have their spiritual needs met as well, and they would like to experience fellowship.”

He said the church recently received 500 copies of a Ukrainian youth Bible. Some were passed on to refugees in Hungary and others will be brought to Ukraine along with its regular shipments of humanitarian aid.

The Rev. Elizabeth Hadju (left) and Bishop Christian Alsted (right) share a time of prayer at Nyíregyháza (Hungary) United Methodist Church before a group, including representatives of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, took relief supplies gathered at the church across the border into Ukraine to help people displaced by the war with Russia. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
The Rev. Elizabeth Hadju (left) and Bishop Christian Alsted (right) share a time of prayer at Nyíregyháza (Hungary) United Methodist Church before a group, including representatives of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, took relief supplies gathered at the church across the border into Ukraine to help people displaced by the war with Russia.
Children who fled the war in Ukraine play at the United Methodist Dorcas church camp in Debrecen, Hungary, where their families have been given shelter. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News. 
Children who fled the war in Ukraine play at the United Methodist Dorcas church camp in Debrecen, Hungary, where their families have been given shelter.

As the war drags on, Khaled said the church must think about more long-term ways to help. The church is looking to secure long-term rentals for refugee families, as well as help finding schools and jobs.

“It’s now a deeper solution; it’s resettlement,” he said. “This is the biggest challenge now.”

Butler is a multimedia producer/editor for United Methodist News. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected] Katie Hills Uzoka, director of international disaster response for UMCOR, contributed to this report.

To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

United Methodist Bishop Christian Alsted and the Rev. Yulia Starodubets pray with Oksana, who fled her home in northeastern Ukraine after the Russian military destroyed her apartment building. Oksana told Alsted that there is nothing left there to return to. She is staying in a former Soviet printing plant turned shelter in Uzhhorod, Ukraine. 

United Methodist ministry with Ukraine

UM News, UMCOR and Global Ministries, visited refugee ministries in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and western Ukraine. Read more about the church's ongoing response to this tragedy.
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