Christmas celebrations may help refugee integration in Hungary

Monday 22, December 2008 BUDAPEST, December 22 (UNHCR) – In the refugee reception centres of Bicske, Békéscsaba and Debrecen, the month of December has been the most colourful and happy period of the year, much awaited and enjoyed by refugee children and their families. At this time of the year, […]

Monday 22, December 2008

BUDAPEST, December 22 (UNHCR) – In the refugee reception centres of Bicske, Békéscsaba and Debrecen, the month of December has been the most colourful and happy period of the year, much awaited and enjoyed by refugee children and their families. At this time of the year, refugee families get acquainted with the traditions of Santa Claus and Christmas in Hungary, they can participate in baking special sweet cookies and they decorate a Christmas tree in each of the centres. 

However, it is not only Christmas that makes December a fascinating month for many refugees. This is also the month when Muslim refugees commemorate Eid el Adha, the end of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Ahmed, a 17 year old teenager from Afghanistan is one of the refugees who participated in the Eid celebrations. Ahmed lives in a special children’s home in Bicske that hosts refugee children who arrived in Hungary without their parents.

“On 8 December we celebrated Eid-el Adha together with the other Muslim boys in the children’s home.” – Ahmed explains. “The girls also joined us. We cooked a special dinner in the kitchen of the home and we played music. I was playing the drum and everybody was dancing.” – he adds smilingly. 

Christmas represents a new culture for most refugees 

Following the celebration of Eid-el Adha, on 19 December refugee children in Bicske also celebrated Christmas. “Christmas is not a festivity in my culture, but I am happy that I could participate in it in Hungary.” – Ahmed says. “We performed songs and dances in front of all the refugees in the camp at the Christmas party. I really enjoyed the rehearsals and I am happy I could finally see a real Christmas tree.” – he says.

For UNHCR, celebrating local feastivities is not only important because it brightens the otherwise bleak atmosphere of the refugee reception centres. “Finding out about local traditions and celebrations gives refugees a good insight into the culture of the country hosting them. In the long run, this can help their local integration.” – says Lloyd Dakin, UNHCR’s Budapest-based Regional Representative.

Celebrations in all three refugee centres

All the three refugee reception centres in Hungary have taken their share in the preparations for the festive season. Békéscsaba (South-Eastern Hungary) is in a special situation as it hosts newly arriving asylum-seekers who only spend 15 days here before being transferred to Debrecen to participate in the asylum procedure. Despite this short duration, the management and local NGOs provide asylum-seekers and their children with social activities, including traditional family programmes. The costs are mainly funded by the European Refugee Fund, as well as the centre’s own resources earmarked for this.

“We had a Santa Claus ceremony in the camp on 5 December. All the children received chocolates and the families enjoyed a song and dance performance by their children. And on 19 December we had a Christmas party with a local music group in the dining room of the camp. We gave each child a gift parcel.” – explained Zsuzsanna Perák, local staff member of the Menedék Association, the NGO responsible for social work in Békéscsaba.

Bicske, which hosts the special home for separated refugee children as well as a centre helping the integration of recognised refugees, is very well equipped as far as preparations for the festive season are concerned. The activities and gifts are funded by ERF, as well as the National Crime Prevention Fund and the camp’s own budget. All the children living in the facility (currently some 40) have received individual Christmas gift parcels including food and fruits, clothing and toys, and the 50 teenagers living in the special home for separated children could even find MP3 players in their parcel under the Christmas tree.

In Debrecen (Eastern Hungary) where asylum-seekers wait for the decision in their claim, there will be a Christmas celebration on 23 December. The costs are covered from the camp’s own budget and from a donation by UNHCR. “UNHCR decided to supplement the funds of the centre and contribute HUF 200,000 to buying gift parcels for the 150 refugee children living in Debrecen. We hope that this can help the children in Debrecen to forget about their problems and have some holiday fun, just like all other children” – UNHCR’s Dakin says.

Andrea Szobolits, Budapest, Hungary