Hewas about the third person we approached just outside the gate of the Bicske open refugee camp on the outskirts of Budapest. He placed his Tesco shopping bags on the ground, and, with little prompting, began to tell us his story as if he had a thousand times before. When we were last in Budapest in August, thousands of migrants had camped at Keleti railway station as they attempted to board trains to Austria. A few months later and we had traveled to this scrubby wasteland to talk to someone.
He was Pakistani, he had traveled to send money home to his wife and family. He spoke in clusters of two to three words. His brother. His brother. Train Austria. Dead. Five dead. One year. He took out his phone and began scrolling through the photographs as he ranged over the details of his journey.
He said he had spent seven years in Greece without papers, that his brother had spent seven days. Then they made their way to Budapest. They waited at Keleti station overnight, then 2000 people boarded a train which stopped at Biscke station. Two days and one night they waited on the train without food or water before people ran out onto the tracks. There was some kind of incident with his brother and the police and then he hit his head on a stone, or had a heart attack,
He fell into a silence as his fingers continued scrolling over the screen of his phone. There were photos from the Bicske station, police lines. “Police angry” he said. His eyes carried despondency. His hands were cracked, and weary. While his brother’s body was sent back “in a box, a big box” to Pakistan, paid for by the Pakistani embassy, he had nowhere to go. After three months waiting at the camp in Bicske the authorities gave him a “negative result”, he would not be getting papers. No compensation from the Hungarian State.
He reached a photo of his brother lying in a mortuary. The photo was blurry as if the photographer could not steady their hand. Another photo: his brother lying in a garbage bag on a bed of stones and straw by the railway track – dead eyes, mouth slightly open. What must it have been like to take that photo, that horrible moment frozen in time?
Time moves so fast, there are no more migrants camped at Keleti railway station, but for this man, without family, without papers, the present must seem an eternity.