Monday, September 7, 2015

Austria, Germany open borders to migrants

Migrants cross the Hungarian-Austrian border on foot after their arrival into a transit zone by public bus to the Hungarian border, between Hungarian Hegyeshalom and Austrian Nickeldorf. — AFP photo

Migrants walk across border from Hungary, more arriving in Budapest

HEGYESHALOM, Hungary/VIENNA: Austria and Germany threw open their borders to thousands of exhausted migrants yesterday, bussed to the Hungarian border by a right-wing government that had tried to stop them but was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers reaching Europe’s frontiers.

After days of confrontation and chaos, Hungary’s right-wing government deployed dozens of buses to take migrants from Budapest and pick up over 1,000 others – many of them refugees from the Syrian war – who had set off doggedly by foot on Friday down the main highway to Vienna.

Austria said it had agreed with Germany that it would allow the migrants access, waiving the rules of an asylum system brought to breaking point by Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

Hungary insisted the bus rides were a one-off, even as hundreds more migrants began gathering in Budapest yesterday, part of seemingly relentless surge through the Balkan peninsula from Turkey and Greece. Wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags against the rain, long lines of weary migrants, many carrying small, sleeping children, climbed off buses on the Hungarian side of the border and walked into Austria, receiving fruit and water from aid workers. Waiting Austrians held signs that read, ‘Refugees welcome.’

“We’re happy. We’ll go to Germany,” said a Syrian man who gave his name as Mohammed. Another, who declined to be named, said: “Hungary should be fired from the European Union. Such bad treatment.”

Bavarian state police said they expected the first refugees to arrive in Germany around midday (1000 GMT), with national rail operator Deutsche Bahn saying a special train with 500 refugees aboard due to reach Munich around lunchtime.

Hungary, the main entry point into Europe’s borderless Schengen zone for migrants heading northwards through the Balkans, has taken a hard line, vowing to seal its southern frontier within days. Hungarian officials have also painted the crisis as a defence of Europe’s prosperity, identity and ‘Christian values’ against an influx of mainly Muslim migrants.

For days, several thousand camped outside Budapest’s main railway station, where trains to western Europe were cancelled as the government insisted all those entering Hungary be registered and their asylum applications processed in the country as per EU rules.

But on Friday, in separate rapid-fire developments, hundreds broke out of a teeming camp on Hungary’s frontier with Serbia, escaped a stranded train, and took to the highway by foot led by a one-legged Syrian refugee and chanting “Germany, Germany!”

Citing traffic safety, Hungary said it would supply some 100 buses to take them to the Austrian border. But the move marked an admission that the government had lost control in the face of large numbers determined to reach the wealthier nations of northern and western Europe at the end of an often perilous journey from war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. — AFP