As It Happens

One-way ticket to nowhere: Migrants and refugees barred from leaving Hungary

Police blocked ticket holders without Hungarian IDs from entering Keleti train station in eastern Budapest today, prompting protests.
Migrants and refugees rest in an underground station near the main Eastern Railway station in Budapest, Sept. 1, 2015. ( Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

One of Budapest's main train stations was open today -- but only to certain people.

Hungarian police barred hundreds of migrants and refugees from entering Keleti station so they could leave the country and head west. Now, not only are they stuck in Hungary, most of them have lost the fares they paid. 

That prompted hundreds of people to protest outside. They waved their tickets in the air and chanted, "Germany, Germany."

Migrants form a sit-down demonstration as police block the entrance to the main Eastern Railway station in Budapest. ( Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

The station closure means that the migrants and refugees cannot leave Hungary -- a country that does not seem to want them there and where they do not want to be. 

Annastiina Kallius works with an NGO called the Migrant Solidarity Group of Hungary and she was at the train station today. She says most of the people are fleeing desperate situations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

"[They've been] sleeping at the station with absolutely no hygiene and no international or humanitarian organizations helping them," Kallius tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

Many of the families have used all the money they had on their train tickets to Western Europe, spending up to 700 Euros. And almost none of them will get refunds.

"In 90 per cent of the cases, they lose the money," Kallius says.

A few will use any funds they have left to pay people smugglers to take them west. It's a journey that proved deadly for a group of migrants and refugees last week. Dozens suffocated in a van abandoned at the side of the highway in Austria.

Those who are now broke will have no choice but to stay put and rely on help from local volunteers.

"They are in the ones in the worst situation," she says. "They simply don't know what to do or where to go."

Yesterday, the Hungarian authorities allowed migrants and refugees to board trains heading west out of the country. Kallius says no one knows what changed.

According to the European Union's "Dublin Rules," asylum seekers must apply for refugee status in the country they first enter. But Germany said a few weeks ago that it would allow Syrians arriving from other EU countries to stay. And that's led to some confusion.

"What is sure is that, if the Hungarian authorities let the trains go, they will send a signal that the Dublin regulation is basically not functioning," Kallius says.

Migrants rest on the steps to an underground station near the main Eastern Railway station in Budapest. ( Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)

So, for the time being at least, the asylum seekers are stuck in a country hostile to their presence. The Hungarian government is building a fence on the Serbian border to try to keep foreigners out. And today a member of the government caucus, Antal Rogan, said that the wave of people crossing the border threatens "the very existence of Christian Europe."

The municipal government in Budapest has provided one shower and three toilets near the station for the hundreds of people camped out there. So they rely on help from strangers.

"There are incredible volunteer groups with these big Hungarian mamas who cook near the station in a secret place, 1,000 portions of warm food every day," says Kallius. "But there is never, ever enough."