Lisa Owen interviews Red Cross spokesman Stephen Ryan in Budapest.
Ryan says it’s mostly family groups of refugees who have started walking across Hungary to try to reach Austria
“I think it’s the type of situation that can only haunt you. If you see scenes like this, and especially if you’re a
parent, you can only hope to try and understand how desperate a parent must be to be able to bring their family on a
journey such as this.”
Says refugees frustrated by “lack of clarity on behalf of the governments of Europe and the EU institutions” but hopes
long-term solution possible in coming days.
Says all countries including NZ have a “collective responsibility” to respond to the crisis.
Lisa Owen: Good morning, Stephen. Thank you for joining us. Can you tell us what the situation is like at the train
Stephen Ryan: Well, right now at the train station, it’s a situation of extreme tension. There’s many police around here
to try and manage the crowd that’s here, but there’s been a number of significant events today, including the departure
of many hundreds of people walking along the highway towards Austria, trying to… They’ve lost their patience with
waiting here at the station, and they’re hoping that it might be better for them to just walk. And these are extreme
scenes; something that we haven’t seen here in Europe for decades.
You’ve been with them while they’ve been walking. What can you tell us about them?
Well, I have to say, it’s mostly families. There’s some individuals there, but there are many families with children,
some young children, even, that are making this journey. And to be honest, most of the people that I spoke to today,
they seem to be quite happy that they’re finally able to move forward with their journey. They don’t know what tomorrow
is going to bring. They only know that at the moment they’re able to move. They’re receiving assistance from Hungarian
citizens on the side of the road, as well as the Red Cross, who’s providing food, water, blankets, clothing and other
items to try and assist these people as they move. And in some ways, you could view that they’re the lucky ones, because
they’re able to move forward with their journey and they have this sense of joy, whereas many of the people that are
waiting here are still unsure of what tomorrow is going to bring.
When you talk about the people waiting, we’ve seen these pictures of people walking, we’ve seen people clawing to get on
to trains, pictures of people pushing their children under the razor wire; what is it like to witness that kind of
Well, I think it’s the type of situation that can only haunt you. If you see scenes like this, and especially if you’re
a parent, you can only hope to try and understand how desperate a parent must be to be able to bring their family on a
journey such as this. It’s not something that they have a choice about. When I speak to these people, many of them, the
majority of them, are fleeing from countries of war, of insecurity. They’re fleeing for their lives because they have no
other choice. I can’t understand why anybody would put their child in danger, put their child into a boat and take a
risk, if they hadn’t any other choice. And this is the case. For many people that I speak to here, they’re quite
distressed because they don’t know what the future is going to hold. They’ve come here to Europe in hope of finding
safety and security, and so far, they’ve found the situation variable. At times, members of the public and organisations
like the Red Cross have helped them, whereas at other times, they’ve been frustrated by a lack of clarity on behalf of
the governments of Europe and the EU institutions. But I’m hopeful that in the coming days, there should be a more
long-term solution which will allow people to seek refuge in a place where they’ll be able to know that their family is
Well, we can talk about, you know, hundreds of people, thousands of people pouring into Europe and Turkey, but I want to
ask you what difference a single photo made of one little boy lying face down, drowned on a beach. What difference has
Well, I think that image – it’s something that people can’t ignore. It’s something that particularly if you’re a
parent, you realise that that could be your child. Many people have young children, and when they look at this image,
all of a sudden it brings home to them that no parent would be taking this risk if they had a choice. It’s something
which puts a face and a name together. Instead of just great numbers of people that are crossing Europe, all of a sudden
it’s individuals – children, family, parents – and this is something that people can relate to far more than numbers,
and this is something which brings back the humanity into the situation like this, and protecting humanity is something
which we now all must do. To find a solution to this crisis, not only governments have to become involved but also
members of the public, and each of us needs to step forward and recognise that we each have a responsibility to be able
to protect humanity and stop indifference to these refugees.
So say in New Zealand, then, what do we do? What can we do as individuals and as a country? What can we do, and what can
our Government do?
Well, I think at the moment there’s a lot of discussion about the number of refugees that countries can bear, and I
think this is something that when we look at the situation that many of these people are facing here in Europe and
indeed in their countries of origin, because a vast majority of people affected by conflict remain in their own
countries. They might be displaced, but they remain there. And I think each of us has a responsibility to step forward
and have our voice heard that we want to have more protection for these refugees and have them recognised as refugees.
Certainly as individuals we can also, for New Zealand, for example, can provide support to organisations such as the Red
Cross or many others who are trying to assist people in countries all the way from Turkey, Greece, former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany and beyond. These people are going to need support, and even
though New Zealand is far, far from here, I’m sure that the images that you’ve seen in recent days can only but touch
your hearts and make you recognise that this is something that we all have a collective responsibility to respond to.
You mention those countries and how widespread the problem, and there are hundreds and thousands of people spread across
Europe and Turkey. In practical terms, what are the conditions like for them? Food, water, everyday conditions – what is
Well, I think it varies from location to location, Lisa. Certainly on arrival in Greece, Greece is a country which
hasn’t had the strongest economy in recent months and years, and certainly responding there has been a challenge. So
when people arrive, they literally only have what they’re able to carry with them on their backpack as they get on to a
boat. So that’s all they have with them, so when they arrive, they need assistance from the public and from
organisations such as the Red Cross, and we’re trying our best to respond. But the Red Cross has appealed for some 2.7
million euro to be able to assist people further. In the coming days we’re likely to assist— to appeal for further funds
to be able to assist people in other countries such as Serbia, Macedonia and perhaps even in other countries again. The
majority of assistance that is needed is simple stuff. It’s food; it’s water; it’s shelter; it’s sanitation. Here at the
train station, there are only a number of toilets, and yet there are thousands of people. There simply aren’t enough
resources at present to be able to respond to a crisis on this scale in the humanitarian way, and this is something that
absolutely must change.
Look, we really appreciate you joining us this morning, Stephen Ryan. I know you have had a really busy day there. Thank
you so much for your time.
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