As It Happens

During interview, tense standoff with Danish police ends when refugees exit train

A train full of refugees heading for Sweden from Germany was stranded for nearly 24 hours in Rodby, a small Danish town off the southern coast.
Refugees, mainly from Syria, speak with a Danish policeman after arriving in Rodby, southern Denmark, from Germany on Sept. 7, 2015. Europe's migrant crisis has exposed sharp rifts in the 28-nation European Union, with Germany leading calls to take in many more people fleeing war and upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa. (BAX LINDHARDT/AFP/Getty Images)

It was As It Happens in the truest sense.

When we reached Marieke Leroy on her mobile phone she was in Rodby, a small harbour town on the south coast of Denmark. On Wednesday, the volunteer witnessed a shift in a long standoff between a train full of refugees and Danish police. Leroy was talking to As It Happens as it all unfolded. 

Migrants, who came from Germany by ferry and train Sunday night, walk from Rodby in southern Denmark towards Sweden on Monday Sept. 7, 2015. Most of the migrants came from Syria, and wished to continue to Sweden where they will seek asylum. (AP)

In the last few days, mostly Syrians have been trying to take a ferry from Germany across to Rodby's port and then continue on their way to Sweden by train. Danish police have stopped the trains. Some of the refugees had decided to protest, refusing to disembark. 

They had been on the train for 24 hours.

Then, the sound of people cheering, heard in the background of our phone call.

"... I'm the people are appearing in the door and everybody here is clapping," Leroy tells As It Happens host Carol Off, at the moment people started to move.

She describes the scene as it unfolds.

"Some of the refugees inside appeared in the door and about 200 [Danish] people are standing here and applauding them now," she explains. "Okay, so now I see them letting people out from the train."

Leroy is lost momentarily, her voice muffled by the crowd. The phone signal returns and she says that the police are now transferring the refugees into a single train which will take them to Sweden.

"One train is being emptied for refugees and they are moving into the other train where there are a lot of refugees as well."

Abruptly, she apologizes again as the signal fades. "We are allowed to go to the people now...basically now we are moving along the side of the tracks...we're standing about 20 metres away..."

Then, Leroy steps back from the flurry of activity.

"There are a lot of people running around, it's really chaotic," she explains.

"We have been informed that one train is going to take them all the way to Sweden."

In the moment, she begins to process what she is witnessing.

"This matters because these are human beings who didn't run just for fun, who didn't escape just for fun, these are families with small children who are in a desperate situation and it's our duty to help."

When asked about the Danish government's response to the refugee crisis, Leroy says "It's these ads it says that we have just made really, really strict rules about refugees and we are making them tighter."

On Monday, Denmark's government published ads in four Lebanese newspapers, meant to discourage people from coming to their country.

Despite the lack of support from her government, Leroy still thinks that refugees passing through Denmark should make it to Sweden.

"There are so many people who feel like me, a lot of people have organized in unofficial groups on Facebook, just trying to help however they can, however possible."

She adds, "The last couple of days since the refugees started arriving in Denmark this way, people have mobilized incredible collections for food and clothes and toys and driving around, a lot of civil disobedience, people are actually helping refugees even though it's illegal."

On Thursday, local reports said that trains arriving in Rodby were being allowed to travel to Copenhagen. From there, people can reach Sweden by bus, train or car.