Feature: Central Europe's first home for separated refugee children opens in Hungary
BEKESCSABA, Hungary (UNHCR) - Afghan teenagers Abdullah, Raby and Reza, as well as 16-year-old Uday from Iraq stepped into their new quarters haltingly, but they quickly warmed up to the neatly furnished, comfortable bedrooms complete with bathrooms and a study room. They were the first four teenagers to move into Central Europe's first home for asylum seekers who fled their countries without their loved ones or whose parents were separated from them somewhere along the way.
The new facility in south eastern Hungary town of Békéscsaba was officially opened on June 27 by Hungarian President Ferenc Madl who also donated a stereo and sports equipment to the centre. The home can accommodate up to 28 children, providing them with legal and psychological counselling as well as education opportunities that they are unlikely to get in a standard asylum seekers' home, where separated children often mingle with adults.
"It is virtually impossible to provide appropriate care to separated children in a camp situation, where they are accommodated together with single adults and multi-generation families, "said Julia Demeter, the newly appointed director of the home.
UNHCR officials say the number of separated refugee children has surged in Hungary over the past few years, as Central European countries receive growing numbers of asylum seekers. Last year 658 separated children were registered in Hungary alone - 50 times more than a few years ago.
"The opening of the centre could not be timelier," said Françoise Lauritzen, UNHCR's representative in Hungary. Lauritzen said she hoped it will protect the youngest and most vulnerable asylum seekers without parental care from falling prey to human smugglers, traffickers or the sex industry.
The centre is financed jointly by UNHCR, Hungary, the US government, the Swiss government and private donors.
Local officials said Békéscsaba, founded by Slovak Lutherans fleeing poverty and counter-reformation in the early 18th century, was chosen to house the centre because of the town's long tradition of peaceful co-existence between various religious and ethnic groups. Békéscsaba has housed a refugee reception centre since the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall, accommodating refugees from Romania, Yugoslavia and more recently also from Third World countries.