Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay prof. describes 'desperate scene' in Hungary

A Lakehead historian who just returned from Hungary, says he witnessed a 'desperate scene' there as the refugee crisis escalated.
Steven Jobbitt is an assistant professor of history at Lakehead University, specializing in Hungarian history. (Amy Hadley)
What's life like in Hungary in the midst of a refugee crisis? Steven Jobbitt teaches history at Lakehead University and he's just returned from that country. 8:49

A Thunder Bay, Ont. historian who returned from Hungary this week says he witnessed a "desperate scene" as the refugee crisis in that country escalated.

Steven Jobbitt is an assistant professor of history at Lakehead University and a member of the school's resource economy and society research group. He specializes in Hungarian history, and was visiting the country to conduct research.

When he arrived in Budapest, Hungary's capital, Jobbitt said he witnessed migrants camped out at one of the city's main railway stations.

"I was blown away by just how many people were there... entire families," he said. 

"So it was a real desperate scene, I would say, and it grew increasingly desperate over the three weeks I was there, to the point where, last week, it was being called chaotic. A chaotic scene."

Crisis viewed through historical lens

Hungarian people are divided between those who wish to welcome refugees, and those who see migrants as a cultural threat, said Jobbitt, and the feelings of both groups must be understood in a historical context. 

"How they perceive themselves as a gate between East and West is really key to understanding how they see themselves in this situation," he said.

"They have historically seen themselves as defending Christian Europe from the Muslim East."

That "gatekeeper" identity is reflected in those who would like to block the migrations, he said.

Canada has 'a responsibility'

While Hungary is meeting criticism for its stance toward migrants, Canada's commitment to refugees is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people flowing over European borders, said Jobbitt.

Canada has "a responsibility" to do more, he said.

"The Harper government has pledged to take 10,000 [refugees] over the next three years," he said, "but that's as many as Hungary gets in three days."

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