The camp seemed to be nearly empty on a Sunday. There are maybe 40 to 80 people in the camp at the time, according to Farooq, by now a regular conversation partner on our visits. The number is an all time low compared to the camp’s capacity of 400–450. On Sunday, the American Church takes one-two cars full of people to church in Budapest, making the camp appear even more empty. At the far end of Budapest utca, the main street and the place of internet access, folded containers pile up to remind us of the summer of 2015 when the camp was functioning above capacity.
As the group returned from church the driveway became animated with people and we distributed flyers about the upcoming submission deadline for the OLIve weekend program and our fourth birthday. In OLIve, asylum seekers and refugees are given a chance to keep their mind busy and prepare for a future - with academic English training, tutoring in different disciplines, discussions and seminars. We invited everyone we met to take part in the birthday party of Migszol, hoping that we can arrange for transportation or cover their tickets.
From the talk of people we gather that the atmosphere is bad people are waiting for a decision on their asylum claims. We met people from Cuba, Syria, Kurdistan, Cameroon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Armenia. The roads that lead to Bicske are long. Many of the current inhabitants had been in other camps, even detention, before and they know of the conditions. Although, Bicske is not the Disneyland of asylum, in comparison to other possibilities living here is way more preferable. Some are worried of getting sent to Körmend - a tent camp next to the Austrian border - where the last we heard people were freezing in the Autumn. What could be the situation at the onset of Winter? One Iraqi-Kurdish man who had studied to be an engineer, was first in Debrecen, from there he was moved to Nagyfa reception center, and then to Bicske. Now he is worried what comes next. He studies at the OLIve programme at CEU and wants to work but he is frustrated because he is not allowed to, as an asylum seeker.
Another man from Cameroon has come to Bicske from asylum detention center where he spent 5 months and where the conditions made his blood pressure worse. Finally, he was offered to be released, if he paid a bail of a 1000 euros. He is still waiting for the decision on his asylum claim, but at least he can move in and out of the camp.
Farooq, our friend from Afghanistan has been waiting for months to know the decision of his asylum claim, it was rejected the fifth time last week. Even though one does not have to dig deep to see that all is not well in his home country. All one has to do is run a search in any internet search engine and the international headlines unfold peppered with words like bomb, blast, killed, threat, Taliban, injured, etc. He says, there seems to be no sense in making an effort to learn Hungarian while waiting. He had started to take Hungarian lessons before, but due to the uncertainty of his situation he stopped. He hopes without hope that next time he’ll be the lucky one.
Many others expressed frustration with the government. There seems to be no trust in the case officers—they give the impression to say one thing and do something entirely different. There is such disillusionment with the asylum system that Farooq expressed a strong feeling that a positive decision depends on luck. As the Cameroonian man chimed in, “you have only one thing to do—pray". While they appreciate the presence of NGOs, and their contributions, there’s not much belief that they can actually help them. The church can get you a lawyer or food, can take you out of the camp for a change, but not much more. Inhabitants are also tired of journalists and organisations who come and go, but who do not seem to be making a difference.
Organisations are working in an increasingly hostile environment where their space of action and support is getting limited. NGOs and other groups such as Migszol are witnessing the destruction of the Hungarian asylum system - Bicske closing is just one aspect of this destruction. In this context, asylum seekers and refugees in Bicske just put up with all of us with patience.
One of those who expressed a strong disillusionment is a man from Cuba who came with his wife. He explained to us his situation, the cases of husband and wife were registered separately, even though they are a legally married couple. When the decision came he received a positive decision and was granted protection in Hungary while his wife was not. Even though their cases are separated, the negative decision in the wife’s case meant that his positive decision was also changed to negative. The case officer advised that they file an appeal in the wife’s case and restart the process in his. That is when they were told that she received the wrong decision and she also should have received a positive decision in the first place. Now they both have to restart their process from the beginning. It’s been ten months down the drain.
The couple from Cuba just like Farooq will have to wait for their decisions in Körmend, or Vámosszabadi, or Kiskunhalas. All these places are far removed from the centre, Budapest, where integration may begin. Körmend is three hours and twenty minutes by train, Vámosszabadi is maybe around two hours, while Kiskunhalas is about three hours from the capital by train. The capital where many of those living in Bicske had gone before and still go every week to reclaim a sense of normalcy and start to prepare for a new life to begin.