ARU in Hungary – the work of Menedék

Menedék – Hungarian Association for Migrants – promotes social integration of foreign citizens migrating into Hungary, as well as of Hungarian and other citizens emigrating from Hungary. It has a wide network of practitioners and researchers in the field of migration hence it was rather easy to draft a list of possible ARU members with the exception of government actors, due to the attitude of the current government to all issues related with forced migration. In the process of building the ARU, a key conceptual question was whether refugees and stakeholders could work together in meetings that deal with the topic on a higher level of abstraction, not on the level of individual experiences. As an example, it was mentioned that a Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patient and a psychologist could work well on a specific traumatic event in the framework of a therapy, but not necessarily in the framework of an ARU meeting. Therefore, ARU was conceived as an essentially stakeholder-focused working group and after that another mechanism was introduced to involve refugees. Another, more practical, issue to be tackled was the language to be used at the meetings. It would have been beneficial to have meetings in English besides (or instead of) Hungarian from the perspective of including foreigners. Yet, it would have had the negative effect of discouraging Hungarian speakers who are not sufficiently fluent in English. Finally, Hungarian was chosen to be the language of the ARU meetings.

Besides the staff members involved in the project management from the start, it was an important principle that different professional skills should be represented, covering the broadest possible range of Menedék’s activities. Besides the staff members involved in management, ARU meetings are visited by Menedék’s colleagues with considerable expertise in social work, child protection, training and education, legal help and policy analysis. May 2019 was the date of the internal setup of the ARU (within Menedék’s team), while the first ARU meeting took place on 16 July 2019.

Positive and innovative factors of the ARU working

ARUs recognized that due to resource shortages, social workers at NGOs often use semi-formal channels to help their clients on an individual basis. This practice hinders structural changes and fuels systematic dysfunctions. A clearer vision of competences (both professional and legal) of central and local government institutions, as well as NGOs would help to better address vulnerabilities in a systemic way. These inputs were important for the further steps of the methodological development of TAIS. It is a general phenomenon that different institutions and organizations get involved in the same case, but they do not follow any established methodology or protocol for intervention. Through the discussion with the ARUs, it became evident that rethinking the operational principles of the institutional interventions is necessary. Trained assistants and volunteers can ease HV individuals’ access to tailored assistance. As the TAIS profiles showed it, interpersonal ways of assistance can be more efficient and can respond to individuals’ long-term needs and enhance better integration.

A Trajectory monitoring toolbox for tailored intervention

In Hungary, the objective of the TAIS is to enhance refugees’ embeddedness in social structures. Social workers and service providers analyse individual cases of vulnerability in order to build a “Trajectory monitoring toolbox” of helpful and tailored interventions for vulnerable refugees. ARU members agree that the weakness of refugee integration institutions in Hungary, and the sporadic inter-institutional coordination in the social sphere have a negative effect on the vulnerability of the forcibly displaced: many times, the root of the problem is that a client with complex vulnerabilities does not receive support at the right place, in the right time. Many people fall out of the scope of general supportive services because complex problems cannot be tackled by a service provider alone. While some refugees can rely on an organic supporting environment (family, friends etc) to overcome the traumas and integration difficulties, most of them do not have this background. For the latter group, it is necessary to develop an institutional environment where actors engage in a non-formal, dynamic cooperation based on the organic structures of the host society.

Despite the fact that the Hungarian project partner in RAISD – the Menedék Association – is a key stakeholder in what is related to social work and integration support, in many cases other professional support was needed. In this sense, the ARUs provided insight and showed the way forward in the case of vulnerabilities that could not be tackled with the „tools” of a social worker.

Lilla Hárdi, member of the ARU in Hungary


One particular field of support is related to the trauma and the coping mechanisms that were built around it. One ARU member, Lilla Hárdi has the medical and psychiatric expertise working with patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She has been involved in the mental care and healing of those experiencing war trauma. Working as a council and executive committee member of the Copenhagen-based International Rehabilitation and Research Council for Torture Victims, she dealt with abuses in collaboration with UNHCR – her patients were mainly refugees or asylum seekers. In 1996, she was one of the founders of the Cordelia Foundation, which was established to rehabilitate tortured and abused asylum seekers and refugees and provide mental-health assistance. She is a member of the IRCT (International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) and received the Inge Genefke Prize in 2014, awarded to those who help victims. Lilla Hárdi has been interviewed about the situation about the intervention on the refugees topic in Hungary and the work of the TAIS implemented by the Hungarian ARU.

Q: Menedék
A: Lilla Hárdi

From your perspective, how does the network of institutions, organizations and specific areas seem to provide help for vulnerable refugees in Hungary?

There are two systems in Hungary – the state system and the NGO system working independently. Although the NGOs used to strive to cooperate with the public sphere, in the last decade this intention was fluctuating, as well as the reaction to it from the public sphere. The state system works on the surface level, where only a superficial caretaking is provided. A typical example can be food supplies, which are provided to those in need so that authorities can “tick a box”, but these supplies are not adequate for the modern dietary needs. This is the setting in which the NGOs try to cooperate in order to assist one individual or a group.

In your work is it the formal or informal channel of assistance that works better?

In the non-governmental areas the individual is of utmost importance, we do not pass around our clients from place to place but we try to help them to the best of our abilities, even though we often run into dead end streets in the maze of the system. If the communication is inadequate, it is the client who suffers.

How can the cooperation in the ARU meetings between psychiatric, social and legal assistance be fruitful?

Cooperation can work with daily dialogues and common discussion forums. In Hungary there is a considerable network of civil society organizations, forming for more than 20 years, but it requires forums like the ARU meetings to maintain these ties. We have developed a resilient network that surrounds the individual in need of assistance, and we are supporting and pushing them through the maze of the system.

Would the material which is currently prepared in the TAIS pilot be useful or adoptable for someone working in your practice?

In my opinion it is useful and we are already using it, we adapt or follow many practices. Team meetings and the constant information sharing around an individual is extremely important, as are the meetings of a larger platform, clear instructions from management, keeping the feedback system open and, most importantly, maintaining constant contact and trust.

A key output of the TAIS in Hungary is a training material developed for social workers which will contain typical vulnerable profiles, and a toolkit to aid self-reflection which can be used by social workers in their daily work, helping them to review their relationship with a client and the preconceptions in their work. Could you imagine something similar to be used or adapted to your profession?

I can absolutely see that happening. Although the main focus of our work is the vulnerable client, if someone has any difficulties in regard to this there is – or there was – the opportunity of supervision, which provides space to talk about these issues, to psychologically process them. Now, in the online world, it has become slightly difficult.

There are 9 months left in the project, what would be a useful topic for discussion in the upcoming ARU meetings?

I believe we could discuss the changes in the world that have happened since the pandemic started. Another idea is to share experiences about the fluctuating clientele in this area, and what kind of new issues are coming to the surface.

Working on the self-reflection methodology for vulnerable clients

“A dynamic and easy-to-use guideline that social workers can follow when they are working with forcibly displaced people with different vulnerability profiles”

Other members have added further layers of understanding to the ARU’s approach. One member has had the expertise about asylum law, with a focus on Dublin III procedures that are of relevance in Hungary. Another key ARU member is an expert in the field of social service provider institutions and welfare allowances, crisis lodging, and institutional protection of victims of domestic violence, while yet another recurring member of the ARU meetings has the experience in developing and managing a wide range of national and international projects implemented by international organizations, charity and relief agencies. Knowing the structures within which specific vulnerabilities are dealt with is also of utmost importance. Based on inputs like these, the ARU could develop multi-faceted response strategies for different vulnerability contexts. Trajectories of real (anonymized) people in real-life situations is now leading to the publication of a dynamic and easy-to-use guideline that social workers can follow when they are working with forcibly displaced people with different vulnerability profiles. This will be one of the key takeaways of the TAIS in Hungary.