Christians in Hungary call on Church leaders to speak up for refugees

Refugees walking towards the Hungarian borderReuters

Leading members of Catholic and Protestant Churches in Hungary are backing an online petition calling for Church leaders to follow the example of Jesus Christ and serve the gospel rather than the state in the way they respond to the refugee crisis.

The open letter, signed by more than 400 leading Christians, warns of rising concern at the 'growing xenophobia' in Hungary along with a general hardening of public attitudes and laws on refugees.

It all combines to make the plight of refugees even 'more acute', they warn.

They have spoken out after a new law came into effect on March 28 under which all asylum seekers will be contained in a Serbian-Hungarian border container camp.

They describe abuses of power as refugees are deported, including setting dogs on them, depriving them of warm clothes and not helping them deal with cash shortages and broken mobile phones.

'Hungary treats for their guests as potential Muslim terrorists, while most are just fleeing the violent actions of Islamic extremist organisations,' they say. Their dignity is in ruins, and the fear and xenophobia being exacerbated by media reporting jeopardises the whole ethos of helping the poor and disabled.

It is wrong to 'protect' one faith while rejecting refugees of another. It is also wrong to close eyes to 'cruelty' and be ruled by fear, rather than having faith in God and the exercise of mercy.

The lay people acknowledge that Church leaders are cautious because they are reluctant to engage in politics.

They plead: 'We ask you to speak out publicly to our country for humane asylum procedures.... to call for procedures to be put in place that will ensure humane treatment and basic assistance in border areas, and that asylum seekers receive the necessary medical and legal assistance.'

They urge Church leaders: 'Please do not serve the state, but the followers of Jesus: represent the teachings of Christ. Easter approaches. Churches especially must the plight of people who suffer, regardless of their origin or religious affiliation.'

According to The Tablet, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's centre-right government has been widely condemned for using razor fences and armed police to restrict the flow of refugees into Hungary, which granted protection to just 425 of 29,432 asylum-seekers last year.

The country's Catholic Bishops Conference made no mention at its early March plenary of the new Asylum Law, which has been condemned by Western governments and human rights groups, and  also denounced by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for its 'terrible physical and psychological effects'.