Migrant crisis: Refugees protest in Hungary as EU argues over solution

Several parts of Europe saw chaotic scenes Wednesday as refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa overwhelmed several cities and border regions.

Scenes of clashes and devastation in Hungary, Austria, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey

Europe's refugee crisis impacts election campaign

7 years ago
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  • Hundreds clash with riot police at Budapest train station
  • 12 refugees, including children, drown off Turkish coast
  • EU at odds ahead of Thursday meeting over how to handle crisis

Several parts of Europe saw chaotic scenes Wednesday as refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa overwhelmed several cities and border regions.

Budapest, the Hungary-Serbia border, a Turkish resort town, Vienna and the Greece-Macedonia border all saw various clashes or scenes of devastation related to the refugee crisis.

In Hungary, hundreds of frustrated refugees demanding passage to Germany jostled with riot police beside Budapest's main international train station Wednesday as Hungary spent a second day trying to keep thousands of asylum seekers from spilling deeper into Europe.

Scores of officers pushed back the crowd, which shouted in Arabic and English to be permitted to march around the Keleti train station, which has become the latest focal point for European tensions over an unrelenting flow of refugees from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Passions also flared on Hungary's border with Serbia as right-wing nationalist protesters marched to the location where refugees use a train track to walk into the country. Police formed protective circles around frightened refugees as the demonstrators from the hard-line Jobbik party screamed abuse at them.

The 28-nation European Union has been at odds for months on how to deal with the influx of more than 332,000 refugees this year. Such front-line nations as Greece, Italy and Hungary have pleaded for more help, while Germany, which is expecting to receive an EU-leading 800,000 asylum seekers this year, has appealed for EU partners to bear more of the load.

"We have to reinstate law and order at the borders of the European Union, including the border with Serbia," Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said. "Without re-establishing law and order, it will be impossible to handle the influx of migrants."

He said Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, will take a "clear and obvious message" to a meeting Thursday with EU chiefs in Brussels about refugees.

On Hungary's border with Serbia, some 300 extremists led by Jobbik party leaders waved Hungarian and party flags as they marched to the border crossing and shouted at the frightened refugees — many of whom had just completed a day-long hike along the rail line — to go back where they came from.

Police escorted more than 50 refugees out of harm's way and, in an unusual move that underscored the often-chaotic handling of refugees in the country, permitted them to run free through a field rather than start the process of claiming asylum. Hundreds of other refugees stayed on the Serb side of the border until the protesters dispersed.

"I am a mother, I am Hungarian, this is Hungary, and they have to go home," said 57-year-old protester Aniko Cserep.

Trains blocked 

Authorities announced over loudspeakers that all trains would be stopped indefinitely from leaving. Migrants' papers were checked, and those with train tickets but no EU visas were ushered out of the station.

A child holds a self-made placard reading "SOS help me" outside the railways station in Budapest, Hungary on Sept. 2. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

But Hungary's national rail company, Mav, said it no longer would sell train tickets to customers who could not present proper ID and, where required, visas. It said customers would be allowed to buy only tickets for themselves, not multiple purchases.

By evening rush hour, the train station was unusually quiet as most commuters found other ways home. But outside, more than 300 people continued to protest. 

For its part, the Czech Republic announced Wednesday it no longer intended to prevent Syrians who had already claimed asylum in Hungary from travelling via its territory to Germany. The Czechs previously had detained Syrian refugees, as well as those from other nations, for up to 42 days. The policy change may allow Syrian refugees to travel more freely to Germany's capital because the most direct Hungarian trains to Berlin pass through the Czech Republic.

12 drowned off Turkish coast

At other pressure points in the route into Europe, Turkish officials said that at least 12 migrants, including five children, drowned as they tried to cross the sea to Greece.

Photos of one of the drowned children has been circulating on social media, sparking questions about whether it is too graphic to be shared online.

And French authorities said cross-Channel Eurostar trains were returning to normal Wednesday after serious overnight disruptions triggered by reports of migrants running on the undersea tunnel tracks and trying to climb atop trains.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected Hungary's criticism of German asylum policy, saying her country was offering the same welcome to people fleeing war in Syria that all members of the 28-nation EU, including Hungary, should provide.

Migrants hold up their train tickets outside the Keleti Railway Station in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday. The station remains closed to migrants, but other passengers are allowed to enter and trains are operating according to schedule. (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via Associated Press)

Talks in Brussels

Hungary's train crackdown appeared prompted in part by pressure from other European Union nations trying to cope with their own influx of migrants. Austrian police in Vienna said 3,650 migrants arrived Monday from Hungary at the city's Westbahnhof station. Most were heading for Germany.

Orban plans to discuss the migrant crisis Thursday in Brussels with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.

The train tensions were matched by highway delays as Austrian authorities reimposed border controls at main crossings from Hungary. 

Tensions flared again Tuesday at Greece's northern border with Macedonia, where about 1,500 migrants are waiting to cross. Fights and scuffles broke out near the Greek village of Idomeni after migrants, mainly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, attempted to rush past Macedonian border police.

Greece's coast guard said it had rescued nearly 1,200 migrants, significantly more than usual, from the sea off its eastern Aegean islands in the past 24 hours.


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