Hospes JRS Program (JMSz) in Hungary – strategy planning



The Hungarian Jesuits launched their refugee program in August 2015. This experience made it possible to reflect and plan strategically.


From January to mid-September 2015, over 210,000 persons were registered in Hungary as asylum seekers, arriving from Serbia. It was an unexpected exodus en masse. The mix of nationalities changed from week to week: over the year, the largest groups were Syrians and Afghans, and smaller percentages of Iraqis, Iranians, Kosovars (before April) and others.

Almost all asylum seekers continued their journey further into the EU: Hungary was only a transit country, and the population was unprepared for this kind of serious migration crisis.

  1. Given the sudden influx of asylum seekers and the Hungarian circumstances, the spontaneous civic solidarity in the country was remarkable. Although unprepared, many individuals, communities, civic and religious groups served on the streets during these three months. We would like to thank all of them for their generous hospitality!
  2. This sympathy was further awakened by the tragedies caused by human trafficking.
  3. The presence of the migrants called to mind heroic experiences from the tragic XX. century when, on the one hand, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians were expelled, and on the other hand, Hungarians offered asylum to Jews and Poles during the Second World War and to East Germans in 1989.
  4. Nevertheless the Hungarian population has not faced immigrants on such a scale since many centuries. The country has the experience of the tragic 150 years of Muslim Turkish occupation, which represents up to now one of its most vivid historical memories. (It is historically important to realise that during this period there was no integration at all.) Also, this society was under Soviet rule for forty years and is still healing the wounds of that period. Hence, large groups of Hungarians are afraid of the migration crisis, of the alleged risks of clashes between cultures.
  5. It is important to underline that nevertheless, during all these difficult months, there was no organized violence, no far-right atrocity in Hungary (with only one exception, an episode with football hooligans); none of the camps was attacked.
  6. The EU’s biased political pressure did not help Hungarians to have a deeper reflection.



After the migration en masse the situation changed drastically on  the 15th of September upon the completion of the closure of the border with Serbia (except for the designated passage points with transit zones), and with the entry into force of the new legislation.

  1. Between mid-September and October another 200.000 migrants coming from Croatia went through Hungary, this time being helped by the national railway system. The State, police and army helped both in the camps and in transporting the migrants free of charge.
  2. Since mid-October, when the border with Croatia was likewise closed, the number of migrants passing through Hungary has dwindled to small numbers.
  3. There are several policy proposals in front of the Hungarian government, assuming that in the future Hungary will receive asylum seekers. Currently, after ensuring controlled entrance at the border stations, there is only a very small number of asylum seekers.
  4. There is a growing consensus on the European level that “there is no better short term solution” than border controls.
  5. Current clarified legal status: Dublin III. is taken seriously. Refugees arriving in the country can be separated into two groups: (1) – refugees arriving through the legal crossings asking for asylum procedure. They are strictly screened at the border in the “transit zones”, and most are refused admission on grounds that they come from a safe third country. The few who are admitted as asylum seekers are placed in camps near Budapest until completion of the procedure. Currently there are only a few hundred asylum-seekers in these camps. (Note that these camps are open – i.e. the asylum-seekers can leave and make their way to other countries if they wish. Many do so.) (2) – Refugees crossing the border illegally (that is, through other points). They are taken into custody and, in theory, expelled from the country. However, in practice their status remains in limbo because Serbia is consistently refusing to take them back. Hungarian legal aid activists are dealing with this question and we are constantly informed about these issues. Currently there are about 1,000 such people in detention.

In a general reading of the news around Europe, we feel that there is still neither a long term reflection nor a real, deep discussion regarding the crisis and its causes. An increasing number feel that there might be very negative scenarios, such as uncontrolled increasing inflow leading to local and national conflicts, or/and extreme right wing parties winning the elections due to political radicalisation. Our work is now focused on the prevention and long term, real integration.

  1. State

In the last period the situation has been calm. There is only a small number of refugees who are registered at the border and ask for asylum. Some of them stay, some go further to Germany.

An intergovernmental cooperation has started on the southern border by the four Visegrad countries. Also, Hungarian police units are being sent to help in Slovenia.

West-Balkan (HUN-CRO-SVN) cooperation has started.

2. Society and the NGO’s

Meanwhile a positive dialogue has started in the country regarding the long term solution. It helps both the population in reflecting on last summer’s crisis, and the State administration to be prepared for taking a number of asylum seekers.

It has become clear that even when the States are managing the migrant flow in a structured way, civil society helpers can help the police by their visibility and human face. Also, the presence of the civilians helps against political radicalisation.

In the civic area the faith-based and the civic NGOs are evaluating last summer’s experience, especially reflecting on the many duplicated actions during the period, and the burnout of the helpers after their service.

The focus is now on the long term questions like local integration.


Planning in the long run, JMSz targets are:

  1. Building more acceptance and tolerance, reducing prejudices and fears in our countries and similarly helping asylum seekers to understand the respective country’s culture and values.
  2. Supporting integration through language and skills training. Facilitating education by offering tutoring.
  1. Accompanying youth

JMSz started to work in Budapest (Fót) in a home for unaccompanied refugee minors. We organize regular education sessions with a small group of minors to increase their integration opportunities. Our focus is on getting tutorial experiences for the long term with this special target group.

2. Education

JMSz started to develop an English (later Hungarian) language and cultural mentoring model-program. For this purpose, JMSz will further develop the already existing model of the School of Possibilities (an existing Roma mentoring program) assisting refugees with personal mentoring. It is envisioned as a model program easily adaptable for other organizations and places.

3. Helping the helpers: building the groups of volunteers, preparation and supervision of the volunteers

4. Reflection

JMSz processes, adapts and shares the experiences of international programs of JRS: Best practice transfer.

JMSz organises professional and informative programs at the House of Dialogue in Budapest for a deeper and more differentiated understanding of the refugee issue. We organised and took part in many meetings and lectures helping a better orientation for interested people.
JMSz offers workshops for professional groups of opinion leaders such as journalists and teachers.
For all that JMSz set up permanent professional working groups to support our work.

5. Awareness raising

JMSz prepares educational materials for high school students for a deeper understanding of the migration issue as well as to facilitate possible Christian responses. It is a part of the efforts to make the Catholic Social Teaching better known in Hungary.

For better use of this material we produce an e-learning program.

6. Community of hospitality: starting a long-term program.

7. JMSz will offer complex (social, psychological, legal) assistance to refugees who intend to settle down in Hungary.


Knowing that Hungarian civil society organisations and their coordination are weak in contrast to some other Western European societies, we decided to work strongly on building a culture of cooperation.

  1. Wide-range cooperation and network-building

To attain the above-mentioned goals, JMSz initiates and supports wide-range cooperation and network-building. JMSz is co-operating especially with the Charity Service of the Order of Malta and with the communities of the Szentjánosbogár, Taizé, Saint Egidio, Focolare, Schönstadt and the Szociális Testvérek.

2. Cooperating

JMSz initiates an online coordination database form for activities in Fót, to help the concerted efforts of churches, civil groups and the State through an e-cluster for coordination of voluntary efforts in this rapidly changing situation.

3. Supporting others

In July, Jesuits started actual service on the streets. JMSz has supported its partners with fundraising and presence, based on the actual needs but not duplicating the ministries on the same spot.
According to recent reports, the arrival of uncontrolled masses during the summer had negative impacts on Hungarian society, so that earlier asylum-seekers and refugees (those who arrived over the last few years) are finding it more difficult to rent a flat or get a job. On this subject we want to take concrete steps in collaboration with those institutions and NGO’s which work with them already. (This is linked with our program of hospitality.)

4. Contact with social welfare system, and assess needs including deficiency of the official system.

5. JMSz prepares fundraising for Christian communities under persecution and for the JRS in the Near-East. We work on establishing long-lasting contact with the Near-East Province.

6. JMSz is urging a common action of Hungarian churches.

7. Since many have voiced the need for a stronger, common stance on the part of those churches which are able to genuinely represent the religious, European and Hungarian values that are usually referred to by the participants of public discourse we seek to be present at diverse professional, planning meetings of NGO’s where there is no other faith-based presence witnessing the possibility of a non-only-self-financing NGO (representing the social teaching of the Church).


The Hungarian Jesuits have launched their JMSz program as a part of the JRS Europe network in early September. The JMSz supports all humanitarian actions based on human dignity and Catholic Social Teaching.

JMSz supports the position of JRS Europe especially regarding:

  1. the need to help legal resettlement;
  2. the need for European solidarity in order not to shift protection obligation to third “safe” countries that cannot ensure proper standards of protection;
  3. the need for safe and legal ways to enter to Europe and therefore for a better defence of the European borders.
  4. the need to reflect on how the migrants en masse would impact and transform our society on the anthropological, social and spiritual levels.
  5. We are urging the Hungarian government and the whole European Union to seek international solutions: let the EU be the ambassador of peace in the midst of international conflicts and assume greater responsibility in assisting the development of the third world.
  6. The EU is in grave insufficiency of humanitarian help for refugees, as often required by UNHCR. We are urging the EU to finance more substantially the refugee camps.

A West-Balkan cooperation has started:  The JMSZ initiated a volunteer program helping the JRS in Croatia. Early November the Provincials and program leaders met in Zagreb.  Our cooperation with Croatia is about solidarity, support to peace-keeping presence in the (military) camp, and helping the helpers.

Budapest, 17. November, 2015.

Fr. Tamás G. Forrai SJ                          Luca Solymoskövi

Provincial, Soc.Del., Hungary             program director, JMSz