Refugee crisis: Austria, Germany to grant passage to migrants from Hungary
Thousands march and bus toward Western Europe
After misery, delivery. Hundreds of migrants, exhausted after breaking away from police and marching for hours toward Western Europe, boarded buses provided by Hungary's government as Austria in the early-morning hours said it and Germany would let them in.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann announced the decision early Saturday after speaking with Angela Merkel, his German counterpart — not long after Hungary's surprise nighttime move to provide buses for the weary travellers from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
With people streaming in long lines along highways from a Budapest train station and near a migrant reception centre in this northern town, the buses would be used because "transportation safety can't be put at risk," said Janos Lazar, chief of staff to the prime minister.
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Lazar blamed Germany's "contradictory communications" and the European Union for the crisis.
The asylum seekers had already made dangerous treks in scorching heat, crawling under barbed wire on Hungary's southern frontier and facing the hostility of some locals along the way. Their first stop will be Austria, on Hungary's western border, though most hope to eventually reach Germany.
Hungarian authorities had refused to let them board trains to the west, and the migrants balked at going to processing centres, fearing they would be forced to live in Hungary.
Hungary says buses are one-time only
But after the Austrian announcement, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told The Associated Press the government was providing buses for the migrants on a one-time basis and Hungary would continue to abide by European Union rules, including the obligation to register all migrants reaching the country.
"The situation at Keleti train station, on the highways and on the train lines threatened to shut down part of Hungary's transportation system, which led to the decision to take the migrants to the Hungarian side of the border," he said.
Abdullah Baker, a 26-year-old physician from Aleppo, who left his parents and four sisters behind, wants to work at a hospital in Freiburg, Germany, where a friend is already employed. He and his two friends seemed to be the only Syrians on the bus carrying about 50 people.
"My family had tears of joy when I told them about the bus," Baker said. "We always fear the unknown but I long for closure."
Mohammed, a 35-year-old Syrian man who was packing his belongings in the sunken plaza of Keleti train terminal and informing other migrants about the buses, said he was happy to be leaving Hungary.
"The situation is so ugly here and I want to send message to all Syrian people and all refugee people — do not come to Hungary," he said.
350 break through police cordon
Under European law, refugees are supposed to seek asylum in the first European Union country they enter. But many see limited economic opportunities and a less welcoming atmosphere in Hungary than in Germany, Sweden and other Western nations.
In what the Hungarian media called a "day of uprisings," about 350 people broke through a police cordon Friday and began heading to Austria, 135 kilometres to the west, on tracks leading away from the railway station. Surprised riot police scrambled for their helmets as the crowd surged from the front of the train.
One man, a 51-year-old Pakistani, collapsed about 800 metres from the station and died despite efforts to rescue him.
Those left behind, mostly women and children, were boarded onto buses and taken to the nearby asylum centre.
Hours earlier, about 2,000 people set out from Budapest's Keleti station for a 171-kilometre journey to the Austrian border. At first police tried to block them, but they quickly gave up. By nightfall, the marchers had already covered about 50 kilometres.
'Go home already'
Along the way, some met with gestures of support. Many flashed the V-sight for victory, while some handed out bottles of water to the weary travellers.
A small number made clear the new arrivals were not welcome. "Go home already," one man shouted in Hungarian from a passing car.
Austrian police were making preparations at main border points, with reception areas and first aid facilities. Hans Peter Doskozil, police chief in easternmost Burgeland province, said those measures should be sufficient for the initial arrivals.
Also on Friday, the Hungarian parliament tightened its immigration rules, approving the creation of transit zones on the Hungarian border with Serbia where migrants would be kept until their asylum requests were decided within eight days. Migrants would have limited chance to appeal those decisions.
One man leaving Budapest on foot said he expected the journey to Austria to take three days. Osama Morzar, 23, from Aleppo, Syria, was so determined not to be registered in Hungary that he removed his fingerprints with acid, holding up totally smooth finger pads to an Associated Press reporter as proof.
"The government of Hungary is very bad," said Morzar, who studied pharmacology at Aleppo's university. "The United Nations should help."