Hungarians living in New Zealand, including political refugees, are distressed to witness from afar the refugee crisis unfold and escalate in their former homeland, and are calling on the New Zealand Government to step up its help as it did following the bloody 1956 revolution against Communism.

They have reacted with a mixture of shame and despair, while some accept the "harsh realism" of Hungary's hardline response to the surge in refugees trying to enter the landlocked central European country.

Amid images of dead Syrian children washing up on European beaches, Prime Minister Viktor Orban is building a 160km long fence, which one Kiwi-Hungarian today called "a new Iron Curtain", along Hungary's border with Serbia.

Mr Orban has also vowed to deploy soldiers in a crackdown on refugees and human smugglers as almost 150,000 migrants have reached Hungary already this year, many trying to reach Germany and get asylum there.

Advertisement

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key is under rising pressure to increase the country's annual quota of 750 refugees or allow an emergency intake from Syria.

Today, Adrienna Ember of Hamilton's Hungarian Cultural Society said she felt "ashamed" by Hungary's response to the crisis, which included Mr Orban stating that Muslims were not welcome because of a perceived threat to Christianity.

"To hear of a new Iron Curtain is very shocking. It is an awful situation," she said.

"And it is not a good look for Hungary, especially when so many Hungarians were accepted after the revolution in 1956, and also through the '60s, '70s, and '80s."

New Zealand reacted to the 1956 uprising against Communism by taking in 1000 of the 200,000 Hungarians seeking to flee the unrest.

Nearly 60 years on, as an eerily similar situation unfolds in Syria, Dr Ember again hopes New Zealand will step up.

She worries, however, that the National Government needs to be doing more.

"I would prefer that New Zealand to be a bit more open-minded," said Dr Ember, who emigrated in 2002.

Advertisement

"I think this country could afford it financially to support more refugees.

"Where there is a will, there is a way. Money shouldn't come into it. If the Government would put it in a more positive light then the public would be more willing to do their part to support refugees."

Judit Tardi of Christchurch came to New Zealand as a political refugee in 1983 after spending 11 months in a camp near Vienna, Austria.

A former honorary consul for Hungary, Ms Tardi has reacted to the crisis with feelings of "absolute utter sadness and despair".

"While I understand that for security reasons all refugees and migrants need to go through identification -- the same procedure we had to go through some three decades ago -- how they are treated while their status is being assessed is paramount for their current and future mental and physical wellbeing," she said.

Having baton-armed police wearing rubber gloves and masks at Keleti international railway station meant the refugees were "viewed as dirty criminals and not as human beings in [a] desperate search of a better and safer life", Ms Tardi said.

Hungarian Society of Wellington president Eva Brody-Popp was also "extremely saddened" by the scenes coming out of Europe.

But her view is that Hungary -- a country with a population of 10 million, with high unemployment and widespread poverty -- has done all it can for now.

"It is a very difficult situation for Hungary," said Ms Brody-Popp, who emigrated to New Zealand in 1990.

"It maybe looks very harsh but we have to protect ourselves.

"Of course we don't want to see people die in front of the railway station. It is our duty to help them. We can do it for a while, but with six or seven thousand people coming in every day, it is too much and we cannot provide for them."

She criticised New Zealand's annual refugee quota of 750, which hasn't changed since 1987, as amounting to "peanuts".

But she warned that New Zealand must be in a position to provide a high level of care and support for any refugees.

"If we have to keep them in a can and feed them like dogs, and can't provide jobs and housing, then that is not right either."

An online petition by advocacy group Doing Our Bit, which calls on the Government to immediately offer spaces to 100 more refugees from Syria, surpassed its target of 10,000 signatures this afternoon.

How you can help

READ MORE: Refugee crisis - What can you do to help?

Donate:

World Vision has been supporting the Syrian refugees since 2011, and has already reached more than 1 million people left homeless and vulnerable in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria and Iraq. Donate to its "Forgotten Millions" campaign. New Zealand Red Cross has an emergency appeal for Syria.

Volunteer: The Red Cross also need volunteers to help refugees settle in New Zealand, and the Auckland Refugee Council also has a volunteer programme.

Provide employment: Work and Income wants to hear from people who have an idea for a project that could help get migrants and refugees into work. The agency can offer advice and may be able to help with costs.