Reflection on the Refugee Crisis at Hungary’s Keleti Train Station

Hungary train
Hungary train

Over the past few days, the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary, has become a focal point of Europe’s growing refugee crisis. Teanna Sunberg is a missionary living in Hungary and serving the Central Europe Field. She has been at the Keleti station helping lead the church’s ministry to stranded families who have fled the violence in their home countries in the Middle East. Here, she shares her reflections, photos, and the voices of many of the refugees she has met.

After the first interview, I realize that I need a newspaper. The train station conversations occur on the ground, at the edge of tents, beside bed rolls, and on small blankets. I need something to sit on while we talk. Yesterday’s French newspaper, Le Monde, catches my eye, and I pay the Hungarian clerk for my makeshift seat. Thousands of pairs of feet that have travelled from Syria to Turkey to Greece to Macedonia to Serbia and into Hungary, or journeyed from Afghanistan, or originated in Pakistan transform this floor into a storyboard for a generation. These are the pages of human suffering and the unbreakable hope of the human spirit.

Their Stories

“I walked three days from the Serbian border after we jumped the wall at night. My mother, my father and my sisters remain in Der Zor [Syria] where the war began. I am their hope.”

“We travelled from Damascus by boat with 50 people. The boat should only hold 25.”

“We are newly married—just 21 days ago. She is 28, a teacher of physics. I’m a mechanical engineer. We escaped from Syria because I should go into the military, but I have friends on both sides of the war. I don’t know who I’m supposed to kill.”

“My husband has been missing for two years. I have two children. The airplanes bombed our house, so my father led our family out of Syria. But we left my mother in Aleppo. She has a heart problem, and she cannot make this dangerous and long journey. I need a home for my children. I need a future.”


“We have travelled for 45 days: seven adults and three children. We paid a smuggler to take us part of the way. He took $1,200. We are here now. We used the last of our money to buy tickets to Germany. That was five days ago and we are still here, on this floor, waiting.”

Chaos, Confusion

The refugees in Budapest’s Keleti train station know why they left their homes, but they do not understand why they cannot continue their journey to freedom. Many of them have paid for train tickets to Germany or to Austria. Family members wait for them at these western European destinations.

Temporary toilets occupy an outdoor corner and water hoses twist and turn throughout the Keleti station delivering hydration. No showers. No place to fix a meal. Many have no roof above their heads. And there’s no electricity, which means a lack of contact with the outside world.

“Everybody comes and takes pictures, asks questions, writes stories, but there is no action. We are still here. We are here for five days now.”


At one mat, I am told that several men were taken away and beaten. At another mat, I hear that a train came (Thursday morning), and people got on believing they were going to Austria. Instead, the train stopped at one of Hungary’s refugee camps, and the people refused to get off. It led to a heated skirmish with authorities.

Words to the World

Mid-day, I stayed for a while at a particular tent in the middle of the station. I had come to ask the family if I could interview them, promising not to photograph their faces. At first they refused, but then agreed. Taking Le Monde and placing it on the floor, I slipped my sandals from my tired feet and began to sit. “No. No. Please, sit here.” There was a rush to produce a pink mat. “This is clean. You sit here.” I received hospitality from a family that has no home. In a train station of thousands of stories, I found myself speechless.

As our conversation blossomed, my new friend, a Syrian refugee, a mother, a woman, touched my arm, “Tell the world that in Syria, we are looking for a place where we won’t die.”

Indeed, it seems to me that all of us, regardless of where we come from or where we are going in this world would tell the same story. “We are looking for a place where we won’t die.”


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This originally appeared in Teanna’s personal blog: