Hungary migration expert: We all must work for peaceful coexistence

The Director of Foreign Affairs of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta recognizes Pope Francis' attention and understanding of migration issues, and highlights the Catholic Church's role as a global peacemaker.

Apr 27, 2023

War in Ukraine (AFP or licensors)

By Deborah Castellano Lubov - Budapest
Pope Francis has recently honoured Daniel Solymári, for his charitable commitment toward migrants. As the Director of Foreign Affairs of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta, Solymári works locally and throughout the world through the Order's extensive humanitarian service network. Last month, the Holy Father bestowed the order of Saint Sylvester upon him, the oldest decoration the Holy See bestows on secular individuals.

While Pope Francis makes his 41st Apostolic Journey abroad to Hungary, Solymári is looking forward to meeting Pope Francis in Budapest.

The Order of Malta is a lay religious Catholic order with medical and humanitarian projects in 120 countries. Since the war broke out in Ukraine, they have been at the forefront of assisting those arriving in Hungary. Daniel Solymári has held his role, assisting in the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta's efforts, since 2010. He also serves as a Counsellor at the Embassy of the Sovereign Order of Malta to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan since 2020.

Daniel Solymári has been very active in Hungary, and has also worked extensively in Syria and Sub-Saharan Africa providing emergency aid and resettlement services for refugees and migrants fleeing war, poverty and natural disasters. He has published several books on the Pope's pastoral work in favour of refugees and migrants.

Relevance of Pope's message
In an interview with Vatican News, he reflected on the importance of the Holy Father's Apostolic Journey to Hungary.

"The visit of Pope Francis is both strengthening and stimulating us to further responsibilities and tasks. It confirms and encourages me to serve a relatively small country with its thousand years of history. It is indeed important for the Pope and for the Church as a whole.

"It is also a responsibility," he noted, "to take seriously and perform the urgent tasks that Pope Francis and the Holy See have symbolised. We have much to do in the world."

This task, he said, is perhaps particularly evident today in the context of refugees and migrants, which is also a strong priority for Pope Francis.

"Indeed, it is one of the key issues of our time, and not primarily in Europe, but especially in the countries of the so-called Global South."

Roots of migration
"Let us not forget, migration always starts on a continental, national and local level, not on the shores of North Africa, for instance. We have to strengthen local communities, and unless we can bring help to where the problems start, we will not be able to respond effectively to this problem, which requires cooperation across the whole world."

The migration expert expressed on several occasions the need to provide sustainable solutions to the challenge of refugees.

“I think that beyond providing aid locally where the problems arise, initiatives to promote integration, can be the most important solution.”

"As Pope Francis often emphasizes, we too often see some of the large host countries providing quite short integration support in many cases. However," he continued, "if we are serious about assistance, if we sincerely believe that refugees can contribution to a mutually enriching future, we cannot realistically expect an African or Asian refugee to be integrated into Europe in a few short months."

Order of Malta's commitment
Integration and resettlement programs are now the most significant part of the work of the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta with regards to refugees in Hungary.

The Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta, he said, "if I may say so, has chosen a more difficult path in the context of refugee integration." 

"For us, integration starts at 10 to 12 months and in many cases, it takes even longer. During this time, we try to provide refugees with complex assistance that will enable them to start a new life on their own.

However, the so-called hard elements, he explained, such as school language and job-seeking support are not the most important part of this work, even if "of course, there are key questions, no doubt about it."

"But more important than anything else is the personal attention and compassion, the very attitude that the refugees have someone to help them into the pool where the water is stirred. We remember the example of the healing at the pool. This is the key to effective aid."

Horrific plight
Daniel Solymári recognized that everyone is concentrating on the horrific plight of the Ukrainians who have had to flee due to the war, but that other migration phenomenon of suffering peoples are often overlooked.

"Hungary is a neighbouring country to Ukraine, and in this context, Hungary is the first safe country for refugees fleeing from Ukraine. This is indeed a responsibility that Hungary has taken seriously, and one of the most significant humanitarian operations in Hungarian history that took place last year.

Some elements are still ongoing today, he observed, adding that on top of this, there is a significant Hungarian-speaking population in the western part of Ukraine with Hungarian background, "which is an additional responsibility for Hungary."

Immense refugee challenge
"Millions of people have left Ukraine, making it the biggest refugee challenge in Europe since the 2015 refugee crisis. But remember, millions of IDPs, internally displaced people are waiting in the western parts of Ukraine. Their chances of returning home are still very unclear."

Responding to criticism that Hungary's immigration policies are unfair, Daniel Solymári said, "The world around us today is indeed simplifying complex social issues from a migration perspective. Let us not forget that while helping the persecuted and refugees is a fundamental human issue, and from a Christian perspective in particular, the host country's own population also has legitimate needs towards the state, and the state has duties."

Pope Francis' call to responsibility
Pope Francis, he said, often emphasizes this dual responsibility. “In other words, the host countries' own legitimate needs and preferences towards migrants and refugees.

However, certain powers in the world, particularly in politics and the media, highlight or hide parts of this realist and pragmatic approach for their own purposes. In Africa or in the Middle East the perception of Hungary and the solidarity of the Hungarian people is rather different from that in the West, in the countries of the Global South. The image of Hungary is that of a country of solidarity and of a country with living Christian traditions."

He has great experience in working with refugees in Syria, and also in the Middle East in general.

Remember Syria
"But Syria is indeed particularly important for me. We work in fraternal relations with the local churches, especially the Greek Catholic Melkites, who do some of the most active humanitarian work in Syria."

"Syria's suffering is another example of injustice in the world, and all our energy and love for Syria is needed to find the best way to help. We just cannot turn our eyes away from Syria, as we very unfortunately experienced after the most recent earthquake in Turkey."

Catholic Church as global peacemaker
On his being awarded the oldest decoration the Holy See bestows on secular individuals, he reflects that this order "confirmed to me that a Christian Catholic actor can also participate in shaping global processes in the global context and can make a meaningful contribution."

The opinion leaders of our time suggest, he acknowledged, that only political business and media actors have the means and the opportunity to influence international affairs. "This recognition has shown that this is not necessarily the case."

"The Catholic Church, which often appears from the outside to only be a spiritual actor in the world, can play a significant role in international peacebuilding and in the global sphere."--Vatican News

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