By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– A controversial Hungarian church group says it has delivered aid to thousands of displaced Christians living in war-torn northern Iraq as part of humanitarian efforts backed by Hungary’s government.
The Hungarian Ecumenical Aid Organization distributed food, drinking water and blankets to some 600 families, “about 3,000 people,” explained Gábor Bálint who leads the group’s international programs.
The Christians were reportedly forced to flee their hometowns amid ongoing clashes between Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Iraqi government troops.
Bálint said his organization had been present in the area since 2014 with support from Hungary’s foreign ministry.
It opened a permanent representation in Erbil in 2016, to help especially Christians who were forced to leave their homes but stayed within the country.
“The mission will provide construction and household materials to repatriated families, contribute to rebuilding local infrastructure, support education and provide welfare services,” said executive director László Lehel.
Hungary’s right-wing government decided in September to contribute a further 2.3 million dollars to missions focused on supporting persecuted Christians and others in Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, and Syria.
However, the Ecumenical Aid Organization is not without controversies. Earlier this year Lehel, a Lutheran pastor, briefly resigned as its executive director after media revealed he had been a spy for Hungary’s communist-era secret service, BosNewsLife monitored.
Lehel allegedly informed on fellow Christians in the 1970s and 1980s before taking the lead in the aid group following Hungary’s democratic transition in 1989 and 1990. Despite the allegations and published documents linking him to the service and the feared State Office for Church Affairs, he apparently returned to supervise the charity.
Critics also say that the government of the increasingly autocratic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán uses aid initiatives to discourage displaced persons to try their luck in Europe. Hungary built razor wire anti-migration fences along its southern borders. Asylum seekers, including children, daring to enter Hungary are detained in heavily guarded container camps.