Good evening and welcome.
Hungary is committed to helping the communities and families in need in the Middle East and to contribute to the humanitarian disaster caused by the war and to mitigate it. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said so yesterday after receiving Syrian Cardinal and Apostolic Nuncio Mario Zenari’s to whom he handed over the Hungarian government’s Syrian humanitarian aid document. It is our country’s firm position that the trouble should not be brought to Europe but that help should be taken to where there are problems. To this end, he would reduce the involvement in multi-stakeholder international aid programs and instead would focus on bilateral cooperation. Poland has already joined the Hungary Helps humanitarian aid program, but the Hungarian government would like the V4, under the name “V4 Helps,” to help those in need in crisis areas during the first half of the year. After a brief summary, we will discuss this topic today.
Masses of people fleeing war, famine, religious persecution, extreme weather phenomena, and poverty are moving towards Europe in hopes of a better life. According to the Migration Research Institute, the population of potential emigration countries will increase by more than 500 million in the next 32 years, so the pressure on Europe is also expected to increase.
According to some Member States of the European Union, the community must show solidarity with the refugees from the third world. In recent years, many decisions have been made in the EU that encourage immigration. For example, the European Parliament voted for the introduction of a migrant visa and provides money to asylum seekers through anonymous bankcards, and the quota issue has not been entirely withdrawn from the agenda either. According to the Hungarian government, these decisions will only inspire those who want a better life to come to Europe.
We should be very careful about what messages we send. If the number of young people doubles—and this is considered a fact—by 2050, we can expect further and more severe refugee and migrant waves, either via the Mediterranean or on land routes. And, this will be a long-term problem that will stay with us. So, if we send the message about getting here and then distributing them here, it will work as pull factor and will pull these young people into Europe.
The government’s view is that migration pressure can only be mitigated if assistance is delivered to where the problem arises, that is, if the EU actively helps to improve the conditions of people living in conflict regions. This principle guided the MPs when the parliament passed the act on the Hungary Helps Program at the end of last year, making local assistance one of the key elements of international foreign policy. The Hungary Helps Program was launched by the government in 2017 with the aim of strengthening Hungary’s engagement and organizing assistance in crisis-stricken areas from which migrants start.
The project supports the poor, stands up for human and minority rights, and works to maintain international security. Workers in Hungary Helps explore the root causes of migration, actively work to preserve the religious and ethnic diversity of crisis areas, and support Christian communities. One of the most important innovations of the program is that it channels the support directly to the selected community, so there is no need to spend funds on administrative costs. And, this way, the majority groups cannot take the money from those in need. The program has been so successful that it has been extended to Poland as a first step, but the government’s undisclosed goal is to continue working with all the Visegrád countries under the name of V4 Helps. The first V4 aid cooperation is planned to be implemented in the first half of the year.
My guest in the studio is Tristan Azbej, the state secretary responsible for assisting persecuted Christians and for the implementation of the Hungary Helps Program. I wish you a good evening.
Let’s return briefly to the introduction before talking about the V4 collaboration. Yesterday, it was announced that Hungary is funding three Syrian hospitals for a full year within the framework of the Syrian initiative called Open Hospitals. Let’s start with which hospitals we are talking about and what we should know about the Syrian Open Hospitals initiative.
The support for Open Hospitals project is our latest support program, announced yesterday. In Syria’s big cities that have been suffering greatly, including Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus, we support hospitals that supply the poorest people. It is worthwhile and important to know that in Syria, 54% of the health infrastructure has been destroyed during the eight-year war. So, it is not about the quality of care, but about having a hospital and having or not having a care system. And, the result is that these days the number of people that die because of the lack of health infrastructure is higher than the number of people being killed in the war.
Secretary of State, let’s look at the facts for a moment. Who are the primary victims of the Syrian violence?
Victims of the Syrian violence come from a wide variety of groups. In his speech yesterday, Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Syrian Nuncio, who visited Hungary, said that more than twenty different armed groups or armies are fighting against each other, and they do not differentiate between victims. At the same time, it must be seen that the most afflicted community in any conflict is the minority community, which, in this case, among others, is the Christian community in Syria. They suffered a lot. In eight years, the number of Christians in Syria has been reduced to less than half of what it was.
What are the opportunities of the local Christian church to provide help there?
The Christian churches are the only supportive bodies to which the persecuted Christians can turn. Unfortunately, in many cases, it turns out that Christian refugees, that is, internally displaced people, are discriminated against by the international refugee aid system. Therefore, they can only rely on local churches. But, the resources of the local churches are finite, which is why the Hungary Helps Program supports the local Christian churches to help these people who have been left behind by everyone else.
It is very important that the hospitals operated or maintained by local Christian churches help not only local Christians, but also Muslims.
Yes, and it is important that if we want to practice Christian brotherly love towards fellow human beings who are suffering, it must not be a discriminative solidarity. So, if we chose one group to support, we would not be exhibiting Christian behavior. That is why we are not only supporting Christians, but, for example, by supporting these Christian-backed hospitals, we place Christian communities in a position to continue the gesture of brotherly care towards the Muslim and other communities that live with them. On the one hand, to do otherwise would not be morally correct, and, on the other hand, we would place the stigma on the Christians that they are favored in the West. So, with our program we support peaceful, lasting coexistence and shared survival.
Can we talk about the amount of support that is involved? I mean in the Open Hospitals program.
We spend half a billion forints on the Open Hospitals support program, slightly more than five hundred million forints. But, this is not our first support program in Syria. In Aleppo, which was locked in a siege for four years and now is trying to recover from almost complete destruction, for example, there we work with the largest local Christian denomination, the Melkites. We work on a program that aims to help families that fled from Aleppo to return there, to provide them some sort of housing, and to restart their lives.
How closely can the aid track be followed? In many cases, we hear that—and I’m not talking about Hungary Helps but about other assistance programs—somewhere in the big system this money is lost, and it turns out that a very high percentage of the money is financing corruption, for example. So, can you follow a trail to the last penny to see where these Hungarian forints go?
Yes, on the one hand, because we choose reliable actors as our partners, and, on the other hand, because even though we provide this support in the spirit of trust and solidarity, it is the money of Hungarian taxpayers, so we follow the program with appropriate program control methods. The goal that the donation actually arrives to the people we want to support is achieved through an “innovative support method”—as a number of Western organizations mockingly call it—in which we give our money not to a large, non-transparent international agency, but to those who we want to support. This is because we do not want to support agencies, but rather the suffering Christian people and other people in the Middle East and Africa who are suffering.
It is a research-based fact that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world today. Statistics show that it affects at least eighty countries and some 215 million Christian people. Do you think that this issue is managed proportionally to its weight by international politics or diplomacy?
Not even close. In my opinion, this is a shameful crime against humanity and failure of the West and international organizations. Human rights organizations and various NGOs focusing on human rights deal with a large number of groups who suffer from far fewer legal disadvantages. These include different gender minorities and sexual minorities. Discrimination against them must also be addressed, but at the same time, it is shameful and must be changed that international organizations and Western governments simply turn a blind eye to the daily suffering and severe discrimination of hundreds of millions of people.
What is the reason for this? Do you feel that it is deliberate? And, what can be done about it?
We do feel that it is deliberate. The fact that they are trying to keep a global humanitarian disaster as a secret, and even explicitly deny it on several diplomatic forums, cannot be a coincidence. I see a general, rather dirty political ideological approach. We believe that, on the basis of the experience gained in international forums, Western liberal political forces are trying to sweep this humanitarian catastrophe under the carpet. They usually try to present Christian religion, people of Christian religion, and Christian Democratic political forces as followers and promoters of an oppressive, aggressive ideology. They are trying to present Christians, Christianity, and Christian politicians as persecuting others and as depriving others from their rights. However, the truth is that, to say just one telling statistical fact, last year 4,300 people were murdered in the world because of their Christian faith.
In connection with this, let me ask you a question. In a previous interview not so long ago you said that the Hungarian and European people have a quantifiable financial interest in pursuing a proportionate humanitarian policy outside of our borders and outside of Europe. Would you explain this a little further?
Yes. Regarding our support program announced yesterday the question was raised about why we support Syria…
The question often arises about why we prefer to help the persecuted people abroad when, for example, there is deep poverty in Hungary. This is a constant criticism of both the program and the government.
Yes. The question is legitimate, so it is appropriate to answer it. I would like to tell you about the Syrian hospital program with which we will support the one-year operation of three hospitals with half a billion forints. In comparison, the Orbán government has spent 500 billion HUF on developing the hospital health infrastructure in the countryside in recent years and has invested 700 billion in Budapest. What we are giving to hospitals in Syria constitutes maybe some ten thousandths of this amount. And, that is correct. The primary task of the Hungarian government is to help the Hungarian people. Yet, with this donation, which cannot even be interpreted from the Hungarian budgetary point of view, we can save entire communities. And, it is in the interest of the Hungarian people as well, because this will prevent and mitigate the migratory pressure that is on our country and in Europe.
In a sense, this also answers the previously formulated question of why this donation is financially worthwhile for the Hungarian people and the Hungarian state.
If we want to speak in numbers, it is well known that, according to a study published by the Soros Plan, 9 million forints —which I think is an underestimation—is needed to achieve the integration of a migrant in Europe. So, Europeans, including Hungarian taxpayers, need to pay 9 million forints per migrant. By contrast, supporting people in distress, people in need, and people who are suffering, for example, to be able to stay in Syria, is a fraction of this amount, a fraction that can be expressed in a small percentage. An economic study has also revealed that, for example, the integration of 3,000 migrants in Sweden is more costly than maintaining one of Jordan’s largest refugee camps, which can accommodate 100,000 people a year.
What phase is the V4 collaboration in? This is the topic with which we started the show today. We know that Poland has already indicated its intention to join, but what cooperation has the Central and Eastern European region started at least on a theoretical level? We heard in the intro that the government is expecting results within half a year.
Indeed, Poland has indicated its intention to join the initiative. Not only has it indicated its intention—since we are the governments and politicians of not words but of actions—we have already started our first joint support program. In Syria we will jointly rebuild and finance an orphanage. In retrospect, this Polish–Hungarian joint initiative was quite natural, as the principles of our program are shared by the Polish party. These principles are that we must have solidarity with the suffering people and communities of other regions, that migration is not the right answer to the problems of the world, but that we have to bring help where there is trouble, and that the persecuted Christians, as they belong to the most persecuted religion, require and deserve priority support. We have already started the first program with Poland, but we are also looking for the Slovak and Czech parties to launch joint programs. Progress has already been made, for example, in the Slovak legislature. A parliamentary committee has been set up, based on the Hungarian model, to design programs to help persecuted Christians and other religious minorities. In Hungary, this initiative and program were also launched by the National Assembly.
By the way, regarding the parliament, the weight of the problem and the situation is indicated by the fact that, and perhaps we can tell the viewers what we were talking about before the shooting, the Deputy State Secretariat in charge of the task was soon transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office and became a state secretariat.
Yes, it also indicates that the Hungary Helps Program has become a national mission, a national policy. Hungary was the country that first dedicated a government unit in the form of a deputy state secretariat and then a program to help the persecuted Christians at the end of 2016. Based on the feedback of our first programs and activities, it has been proved that this is a very important matter, because the persecuted Christians could not count on anybody else, at least in the beginning, until we secured some allies for the case. And, it was obvious that, and we can say this without any self-glorification or bragging, what we were doing simply saved lives. For example, an entire community was saved in Iraq and in other places as well, for example, in, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Nigeria.
It is important to say, and it should be emphasized, that this is not just about helping the persecuted Christians. Hungary Helps started as a political initiative, and many people even today—and this obviously indicates the weight of the problem—associate it with the help of the persecuted Christians, but this is not entirely correct. The program also undertakes humanitarian aid in other directions. Is that right?
Yes. As I said, it would be morally wrong to deal only with the persecuted Christians. However, we need to focus on them as a prioritized group, for several reasons. On the one hand, because they represent the most persecuted religion, and the world has turned its back on them. On the other hand, Hungary is a Christian country, at least in its culture, traditions, and identity. And, we feel that since the allegedly Christian West has turned away from our persecuted brothers, we have a moral duty to help them. But, it is also a fact that, as we like to summarize it, our support program for persecuted Christians is explicit, but not exclusive.
Tristan Azbej, thank you for accepting our invitation. Our moral duty was to talk about this topic. I wish that the helpers also have helpers. I hope that we could contribute to this with today’s show. Thank you for being here.
Thank you very much for this opportunity and for the affirmative support.
Dear viewers, thank you for watching us this time. See you in a week. Goodbye.