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‘Hungary Helps’ Program Yearly Funding Withdrawn Due to Coronavirus Epidemic, Still Continues

Fanni Kaszás 2020.04.21.

Last week, the news appeared in the press that the government may terminate the ‘Hungary Helps’ program. Since then, it has become clear that the program will not end, but this year’s funds have been withdrawn from the project. Tristan Azbej, Secretary of State responsible for the implementation of the ‘Hungary Helps’ program, said that the programs that had already started would continue from Hungary, but that no new support would be launched that would take anything away from the domestic protection against the coronavirus epidemic.

Last week, a proposal was published on kormany.hu under the name of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in which the government decided to revoke three government decisions concerning the ‘Hungary Helps’ program. One is about the introduction and goals of the program, the other about the property on Naphegy Square, where the state secretariat responsible for helping persecuted Christians and implementing the ‘Hungary Helps’ program headquarters are located, and the third is the establishment of the ‘Hungary Helps’ Agency Non-profit Ltd.

Some news has circulated in the Hungarian press that the government may terminate the whole program, but since then, it has turned out that the program will continue, only this year’s funding will be withdrawn so that it can be used for other purposes in the fight against the coronavirus.

Fact

The Hungary Helps program is a governmental framework program launched in 2017 with a budget of 3 million Euros, (then equaling about HUF 930 million), to ensure Hungary’s international humanitarian aid and development activities. These activities have been conducted in developing countries and different crisis areas and have been directly implemented and in a coordinated manner. Part of the mission of the program is to raise awareness of Christian persecution as one of the most carefully concealed tragedies of the 21st century. Spread across more than one hundred countries and involving approximately 245 million people, as many as one in nine experience discrimination and outright persecution solely for their Christian faith. The Hungary Helps program does not exclusively help Christian communities in the crisis areas but gives them increased protection. Until April 2019, the Hungarian government spent more than HUF 8 billion (EUR ...) on the program, mainly in the Middle East, and they also support the production of conferences, books, exhibitions, films, research, and websites in line with the aims of the program.

Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, stated in Thursday’s press briefing when asked about the program that a fund should be established for epidemiological control and to restart the economy, and “no matter how painful it is to take money from Hungarian programs that serve humanitarian purposes and have gained recognition for this country, there is an order of importance. This order of importance has now changed as the epidemiological control consumes such costs and the Hungarian economy is in a completely different situation” than it was before.

However, Gulyás emphasized that the program will not end, “it is just a hoax, only this year’s resources are significantly narrower.” The PMO head added that “We are still trying to fulfill some of our humanitarian obligations, and even with a central government decision, this can be done within the framework of the ‘Hungary Helps’ program, even though the independent, dedicated resources available have been drawn from the program for this year.” The minister added that otherwise, the program is considered successful so “in next year’s budget we intend to keep it as a separate chapter with freely available amounts; we want to maintain the program in the long run.”

State Secretary Azbej Tristan said in an interview with Christian website szemlelek.net that when the coronavirus arrived in Hungary, “we realized that we can only continue to help others if we protect ourselves first. Now we need our knowledge, the human and material resources at home.”

The state secretary and his colleagues have also joined the efforts to combat the epidemic, as they have accumulated a wealth of international experience in similar activities within the framework of the ‘Hungary Helps’ program over the past three years. Several experts in charity projects were called home and even rescued from the sites where the program supports Christians, and their volunteers were also kept at home to help control the epidemic.

He added that their programs are continuing in a dozen countries, and they will still help from a distance, but “we are not launching new support that would take anything away from domestic protection against the coronavirus epidemic.”

The state secretary added that the program has transferred slightly less than half of its budget planned for this year to the epidemic fund. If they would like to continue the program at the expense of the fund, it will need an approval from the government and the ministers overseeing the defense.

The state secretary also said that the “legal explanation for the revocation of government decisions” is that the law on the ‘Hungary Helps’ program and its operational framework was passed by Parliament in 2018.” He added that “the government decisions are no longer needed, as “they have served their purpose: the program has been launched, the state secretariat has its headquarters and the agency has been set up.” The state secretary also said that “it is not common for a humanitarian program to be raised to such a high level, and I think this has made our task a national mission.”

featured photo: Hungary Helps Facebook page