The Thinker: Rich Galen


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The Hungary Games - Wrap

Rich Galen

Monday October 19, 2015


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  • This is the fifth, and final, installment of The Hungary Games Travelogue. To review, colleague Tim Hyde - a professional photographer - and I decided to mount a two-person expedition to Hungary and to the Serbian, Croatian, and Austrian borders to see for ourselves what was going on with the tidal wave of people coming across those borders with Hungary.

  • In Parts 1-4 we looked at the police, the large reception center in Croatia, the volunteers who were manning the cross-border checkpoints, and took a hard look at the train that moves the people across Hungary.

  • Here are the links to the first four reports:
    For Part 1 click HERE .
    For Part 2 click HERE.
    For Part 3 click HERE.
    For Part 4 click HERE.

  • The exit point from Hungary is Austria. That was, in fact, the first place our team drove to and visited but I wasn't with him due to travel issues which included:
    - Forgetting to bring my meds;

    - Getting rained-in in Detroit and missing my connection to Amsterdam;

    - Leaving my wallet at the security check point at Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris, and;

    - My lone checked bag got to Hungary three days after I did.

  • Each of those has an absolutely side-splittingly funny backstory unless (a) you've ever tried to meet up with a team of people six time zones away or (b) your name is Rich Galen and it actually happened.

  • The net result was, I got to Budapest a day late but the team wisely went to our first scheduled stop, Austria, without me.

  • Gabriella Zahoran, our driver/translator/fixer is really in the business of producing documentary films. Thus, she was not a sightseer, but a keen observer of what was going on at the Hungarian/Austrian border.

  • She and Tim Hyde noted that the train from Hungary stopped about 3 km from the Austrian border, so everyone had to walk the last almost two miles.

  • The process was orderly, but the people had been on trains for eight hours or more and, getting that close to their goal - into the EU - made for tension.

  • From Gabriella's notes:
    They [had] travelled from 8 AM this morning. The journey was long and tiring with many people including lots of young children stuffed into a small train.

  • At one point, Tim told me, "Gaby and I were surrounded on the train platform by people trying to find out what would happen next and where they were to go."
    They did look tired upon arrival but a lot of them were smiling and looked happy. Some of them looked generally fed up and they asked if they were in Austria already? It was quite clear that they had no idea where they were.

  • On the Austrian side, though, the deputy coordinator told them that 10,000 people had arrived the day before and 4,000 so far the day there where there. Those numbers were well within their capacity. She told Gabriella, though, that "when it rains or when Winter comes," if these numbers continue, it will be a problem because "we only have room for about 1,500 people at a time in a large building and in the tents."

  • She wasn't sure how many more trains were expected that day because they had nearly no contact with the Hungarian officials across the border - about 50 meters away.

  • On the Austrian side there were two lines. One was for people queuing up for the taxis that were lined up to take them to Salzburg or elsewhere in Germany for about 650 Euros (about $740) for up to 8 people. Gabriella estimated those people accounted for about a third of the total.

  • The people who were waiting for buses (no charge) were broken up into groups of 50 and lined up in a Disneyland-like "S" fashion so people didn't think the distance between them and the buses was as far as the line was long.

  • In Part 4 we talked about a young man from Iran named Amir who was a mechanical engineer but wanted to go to a country where the economy was stronger, the pay was higher, and he would have more opportunities to use his engineering degree.

  • The issue, throughout these reports, has been why the EU had become such an economic magnet for the migrants/ refugees in the river of people.

  • Here's a list of the average monthly wage from some representative counties in USDs. These are estimates, but it is not the exact number that is important so much as the delta between them:
    US - 4,357
    Germany - 3,430
    Croatia - 1,856
    Hungary - 1,712
    Afghanistan - 1,048
    Iran - 470
    Syria - 364
    Pakistan - 255

    [Note: I suspect that number for Afghanistan is heavily weighted toward people who work for the government in some capacity or another]

  • Thus, the average monthly wage in Germany is just shy of ten times the average monthly wage in Syria. A strong magnet, indeed.

  • Although we did it in the wrong order, we did get to see and speak to people on both sides of the Hungarian border with Croatia, Austria, and Serbia,

  • Like most wars, the people who are immediately affected - whether by living at a border crossing or, several months ago, living or working near the Budapest railway station - keep close tabs on what is going on and where it is happening.

  • Someone asked me the other day why this migration has dropped off the front pages. "No water cannons and no crowds of people throwing themselves on razor wire.

  • The razor wire is there and Hungary is making good on its promise/threat to seal its borders but we know that it won't stop people from trying to get to a better place.

  • All of life - from plants having their seeds find their way to more fertile soil; to the vast wildebeest migrations from grazed-out areas to where the fresh grass is growing; to humans - will all try to move from poverty to wealth.

  • I am not certain what questions we were trying to have answered when Tim Hyde and I started plotting this trip. But, we did find out that a very high percentage of the people moving toward the EU were more-or-less middle class.

  • For the most part they were either looking for a better life for themselves, or looking for the same life in a better place for their families.

  • I'm glad we made this journey. I hope you enjoyed coming along.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring Page today: A link to Gabriella's summary of the Austrian border visit; and to a Wikipedia page showing relative wages in selected nations.

    Also a Mullfoto of Tim Hyde and I standing - literally - on the border.

    -- END --

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