Talk of refugees has reminded me that when I was a child we had a refugee living with us. This was after the 1956 Hungarian revolution against the communist regime and its Soviet masters. When Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest the city endured days of heavy shelling and street battles, and Hungarians started to flee at the rate of thousands a day to neighbouring Austria. By the time the borders were fully sealed, some 180,000 Hungarian refugees had made their way to Austria and 20,000 had headed south into Yugoslavia. Within days of the exodus starting, an extraordinary operation sprang up in Austria, not only to care for the refugees, but to move them out of the country almost as fast as they arrived. In the end, 180,000 were resettled from Austria and Yugoslavia to a total of 37 different countries and one of them ended up in our Christchurch home.
More than a thousand Hungarian refugees came to New Zealand at this time. Most of them were male, and many were single and in their 20’s. “Our” refugee, whose name was Joseph Kiss, was one of these. The main thing I remember about him was that he spoke no English at all. He did speak some German. My brother had learned a little German, and had a German dictionary which he and Joseph used to communicate. We eventually learned that he was a cabinet maker (or possibly a French polisher) and that he had had to swim icy rivers on his way to freedom. I’ve no idea how long he was with us, but I think it was some weeks. I wonder what happened to him afterwards.
It amazes me that in 1956 we could take 1,099 refugees, yet today our quota is capped at 750, despite the humanitarian crisis as people flee the conflict in Syria.
“Would you take in a refugee
and give them hospitality?”