Posted on September 1, 2015

Hungary Closes Main Budapest Station to Refugees

Daniel Nolan and Kate Connolly, Guardian, September 1, 2015

Hungarian authorities have closed Budapest’s main station to refugees and migrants following chaotic scenes on Monday, when people who had been camped outside for weeks were suddenly allowed to leave for Austria and Germany without visa checks.

The move followed the station’s complete closure earlier, when all trains to the west had been stopped from leaving. Police in helmets and wielding batons surrounded Keleti station’s grand, crumbling facade and dozens of refugees and migrants who were inside were forced out.

A government spokesman said Hungary was trying to enforce EU law, which requires anyone who wishes to travel in the borderless Schengen zone to hold a valid passport and visa.

The closure of the station to refugees and migrants appeared prompted in part by pressure from other EU countries trying to cope with arrivals from Hungary. Hundreds demonstrated outside the station, demanding that it be reopened to them and they be allowed to travel on to Germany. Having seen the end of their journey in sight they bought tickets at around €100 a person, only to be denied entry on Tuesday morning.

“Why have they sold us return tickets? We are refugees, we are one-way,” said Mohammed, who had travelled from Damascus with his uncle and cousins. “These people are thieves.”

Rafir Kozma, 30, from Syria, said: “I came here and they bought a ticket for three people to Munich It was €370.20. My train was at 7am this morning and the police didn’t let me into the station, and after you see what happened.”

There were chaotic scenes at railway stations in Germany on Tuesday as around 2,000 refugees and migrants arrived on trains from Hungary overnight. Police said thousands more were expected throughout the day.

Police at stations in Munich and Rosenheim in Bavaria escorted passengers–mostly from Syria, but also from Iraq, Afghanistan and Eritrea–off the trains. Exhausted and dehydrated after long journeys, they were taken to reception centres across Bavaria.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has said that Germany could cope with the numbers, but on Tuesday she again stressed the need for a fairer distribution of refugees across the EU. She made her comments at a joint press conference in Berlin with Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, before talks at which the migration crisis was to be the main focus.

As people shouting “Germany! Germany!” were locked out of Budapest’s Keleti station on Tuesday morning, after others were allowed to travel unhindered to Germany and Austria on Monday, both Berlin and Vienna demanded answers from Hungary’s government.

Austria’s chancellor, Werner Faymann, did not hide his fury towards Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, calling on him to ensure the refugees were registered before allowing them to cross the border.

“That they are simply getting on board in Budapest and they make sure they travel to the neighbouring country–what sort of politics is that?” he said on Austrian television.

Many who arrived in Vienna on Monday travelled on to Salzburg, on the border with Germany, where they spent the night at the railway station and were looked after by charity organisations.

Fewer than 10 of about 3,600 people who arrived in Austria had applied for asylum there, the authorities said. The rest said they wanted to go to Germany.

As the German authorities also questioned why Vienna had let many of the trains carry on to Germany, Austria’s interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner accused Berlin of bringing the situation on itself. Merkel’s government had “awakened hopes” in refugees when it stated last week it would not turn those from Syria back, he said.

Refugees who arrived at Munich station on overnight trains chanted” “Ich liebe Angela Merkel”, “I love Angela Merkel”.

Volunteer organisations set up makeshift arrangements to feed and provide water to new arrivals in Munich, and the city’s police said they had reinforced water supplies. Commuters on their way to work in Munich bought brezel or bread rolls and bottles of water and handed them out to exhausted refugees.

Police in the city later appealed to the public to stop bringing gifts for refugees, announcing in a tweet that they had been “overwhelmed” by the amount of provisions left at Munich station, including foodstuffs and nappies.

Bavaria’s interior minister, Joachim Herrmann, stressed that none of the refugees from Syria would be sent back to Hungary, as would be usual under EU rules, but would instead be sent to reception centres.

The Schengen agreement requires refugees to seek asylum in the first country they enter under the EU’s Dublin accord, but last week Berlin said it had suspended the requirement for Syrians, who would now be permitted to stay in Germany and apply for refugee status. The move has angered Hungary, which said it would encourage more migrants to make the journey to Europe.

Merkel sent out her strongest message yet on Monday that Germany was bolstering its efforts to deal with the crisis, saying: “Germany is a strong country and the motive must be: ‘we’ve managed so much, we can manage this’,” she told a news conference in Berlin.

She said, however, that the situation should be seen in its European dimension. “If Europe fails over the refugee question . . . it will not be the Europe that we had imagined,” she said.

Michael Fuchs, the deputy leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union lliance in the Bundestag, called for more be done to integrate refugees into the German workplace. He called on the government to set up language courses and to send job centre employees to reception areas to assess newcomers’ qualifications.

“It makes no sense for them to be hanging around in camps,” he told German DFL Radio. “That will only lead to ghetto-style circumstances.” Fuchs added that the number of people expected to seek asylum in Germany would likely need to be revised again from the 800,000 figure given by interior minister Thomas de Maizière two weeks ago.

“I recall that at the start of the year we were talking about 200,000 people. Yesterday, the figure of one million was doing the rounds. It is going up in a manner in which we could never have imagined. Neither should we be under the impression that this influx will be over by the end of the year. It is likely to continue in the same vein next year,” he said.

Hungarian police have arrested opposition politician and journalist György Kakuk close to the town of Röszke after he took bolt cutters to a barbed wire fence erected between Hungary and Serbia to stop refugees coming through. The news portal reported that Kakuk and Serbian journalist Milica Mancic Stojkovic had wanted to protest against the barrier.