Alasdair Johnstone: 48 hours in Budapest

Keleti is the gateway to Budapest, linking other Major European cities such as Prague, Bratislava, Vienna and Munich. I, like many others, had travelled from Bratislava by train on 2nd September and was then due to leave, after two days, to Vienna in Austria. This was a train many more wanted to catch.


It was quite a shock to first see the migrant camp, despite seeing pictures on the news. As you pass from the normality of the main station concourse to witness sea of people crammed into the underground space below. The refugees themselves, where reasonably well looked after for the circumstances with people handing out food and water. But it was clear that they did not want to remain, with backs packed ready to get on the first train to Germany (as they did).

But Budapest appeared to be is a city which has a rich tapestry of political tensions, with the migrant crisis being the most recent and most covered by the world’s press. During my visit I was caught up as a fascist mob, dressed in black balaclavas, tore through Pest, the eastern part of the city; seeking and attaching Romanian visitors there for the football match the following day. There is large protest sight next to a controversial monument, which suggests that Hungary was oppressed by Nazi Germany rather than complicity with their actions during the Second World War.

Hungary is country with political challenges and is trying to come to terms with its history. This helps explain, in part, the confusing policy the Hungarian government have taken to the migrant crisis and how best to support those Syrian refugees. But clearly Hungary is not in a position to deal with the influx of migrants. Like the other gateways to Europe, Hungary neither has the sufficient finances nor infrastructure to deal with the situation.

On the river, just moments from the Parliament building is the Shoes on the Danube memorial; a moving tribute by the filmmaker Can Togay, who had it constructed to remember and honour the Jews shot by the Arrow Cross militants towards the end of the Second World War. The brutality handed out the by the Nazis and its supporters was terrible, but all too familiar for those gathered at Keleti station.

Since my visit to Budapest, the situation has moved on, with those Syrian refugees now travelling into Austria and Germany. The news from the Prime Minister that the UK Government plans to do more to help the Syrian refugees is very good to hear along with the Chancellor’s statement that money will be taken from the foreign aid budget to help this process.

Alasdair is a Parliamentary Researcher and Secretary for the Lewisham Deptford Conservative Association