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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Balkan refugees long to go home

There are signs of peace in former Yugoslavia. But after on-again-off-again elections, m any Bosnians, Serbs and Croatians still can't go home.

Through assistance from Hungarian churches, Balkan refugees have found a temporary home at a camp in Eröspuszta, Hungary, outside Budapest. The camp was started in 1991 by Lutheran, Baptist, Orthodox, Methodist, Reformed, Salvation Army and Unitarian churches in Hungary to serve the steady stream of refugees from Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.

The church group, called Hungarian Interchurch Aid, with help from overseas partners (including the ELCA through the Lutheran World Federation), obtained 27 acres of land in a farming community. A center, a kitchen and housing were put up with the aid of refugee labor.

Today there are 70 refugees at Eröspuszta, including 18 children. Most of the remaining refug ees are Bosnian. Some want to return home; others, traumatized by the bloody war, are seeking asylum in Germany.

Hungarian Interchurch Aid provides refugees with a preschool, language instruction, family reunification services for those separated during the war, job skills training and alien law counseling.

The largest group of refugees at the camp no w are Bosnians such as Ajsá-Bzok Karaahmetonc and his wife. They fled their home nearly five years ago. "We don't want asylum in Hungary but want to go home," the Karaahmetoncs said through an interpreter.

The churches are helped by government refugee programs. But Mátyás Sundheim, from New London, Minn., works at the camp and says it's still a struggle to get cash for food that can't be grown in the camp's fields. There's also a lack of farming equipment, and water has to be trucked in, he added.

Once the refugees are resettled, Hungarian Church Aid officials hope they can turn their attention to the poor people in their country, who are still struggling to recover from years of communist rule.


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