31 October 2019, The Tablet

The Hungarian government devotes a specific part of its aid budget to helping Christians

The Hungarian government devotes a specific part of its aid budget to helping Christians

We all know that Christians are the single most persecuted religious group, no? If we don’t, we should. But it’s not a circumstance that seems to register with most Western countries when it comes to overseas aid. In the Syrian conflict, for instance, aid was channelled into the refugee camps, where Christians found themselves intimidated by the Islamists who controlled them; they preferred to take refuge with local Christian communities, and so received next to no help from international donors.

But for the last two years, the Hungarian government – yep, under the controversial Viktor Orbán – has sought to remedy matters by devoting a specific part of its overseas aid budget – known as Hungary Helps – to help Christians. Tristan Azbej, the state secretary with responsibility for the programme, was in London last week to meet British ministers and I spoke to him at the Hungarian embassy. “If we were only to give help to Christians to the exclusion of other groups, we would actually be un-Christian,” he said. “Besides, if aid were given to Christians and not to their neighbours, they would find themselves stigmatised. So we give aid to Christians in such a way as to help their neighbours of other religions.”

If there is funding for a Christian hospital, for instance, it must provide care for patients of all background. The initiative has already borne fruit: Azbej said that Hungary Helps has given £1.6 million to help reconstruct Tel Askuf, a town in the Nineveh Plain destroyed by IS; and has enabled 1,000 Chaldean Christian families to return home. It has also helped with the rebuilding of infrastructure in Sindjar, the Yazidi region where the genocide of Yazidis took place in 2014.

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