Asylum seekers have thrown themselves onto train tracks and fled from police trying to take them to a reception centre in Hungary, as authorities sought to end a standoff that has become symbolic of a European asylum system brought to breaking point.
With the government promising to close the country off to migrants by September 15, chaos broke out after a train bound for Hungary’s border with Austria was stopped some 35 kilometres outside of Budapest in the town of Bicske, where Hungary has an asylum seeker reception centre.
Riot police ordered them off, but many asylum seekers resisted, laying on the railway line or fleeing. Some wrestled with police, trying to get back on board.
Those who refused to disembark banged on the windows of the train and shouted “No camp, no camp!”
A family — a man, his wife and their toddler — made their way on the track next to the train and lay down in protest. It took a dozen riot police wrestling with the man to get them up again.
The train left from Budapest’s main railway station on Thursday morning after police, who for two days had barred entry to more than 2,000 asylum seekers, stepped aside and a crowd surged past.
Many believed they were heading for Austria, Germany and beyond, nearing the end of a sometimes perilous journey from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Exhausted and confused, they crammed into a waiting train, clinging to doors and squeezing their children through open carriage windows.
Trains to Vienna and Germany were cancelled, but domestic trains, many of them heading for border towns in western Hungary, were leaving.
“We want to go to Germany but that train in the station, maybe it goes nowhere. We heard it may go to a camp. So we will stay out here and wait,” Ysra Mardini, a 17-year-old from the Syrian capital Damascus, said.
Asylum seekers arriving in Vienna from Hungary will not be checked or registered and can continue their onward journeys across Europe, the police chief in Austria’s capital said.
Austrian rail operator OeBB said several trains had left Budapest for Sopron, which is near the Austrian border and connected to Vienna via regional rail lines.
No intercity trains were running from Budapest to Vienna, unlike on Tuesday when asylum seekers packed trains hoping to make it to Germany or beyond.
“What we certainly can’t do is check all those people coming through, establish all their identities, or possibly even arrest them — we can’t do this, and we have no plans to do this,” Vienna police chief Gerhard Puerstl said.
Asked if the migrants would be allowed to continue their journey, Mr Puerstl said “yes — of course, we will ensure that everything is orderly, there is no question of that,” adding there was no point in shuttling people back and forth in trains.
As the train departed, lawmakers were debating a raft of amendments to Hungary’s migration laws that the ruling party said would cut illegal border crossings to “zero”.
They provide for the creation of holding zones on the country’s southern border with Serbia, where construction crews are completing a 3.5-metre-high fence.
Hungary has emerged as a flashpoint, as the primary entry point for those travelling overland across the Balkans. Its right-wing government is among the continent’s most outspoken voices against allowing mass immigration.
Prime minister Viktor Orban, in Brussels for talks with European leaders, said Hungarians and Europeans were “full of fear because they see that the European leaders … are not able to control the situation”.
In an opinion piece for Germany’s Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, he wrote his country was being “overrun” with refugees, most of which, he noted, were Muslims, not Christians.
“That is an important question, because Europe and European culture have Christian roots. Or is it not already and in itself alarming that Europe’s Christian culture is barely in a position to uphold Europe’s own Christian values?” he asked.
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs defended his country’s treatment of the asylum seekers.
“There is only one way to resolve this and this is by law, and re-establishing law and order,” he told ABC’s The World program.
“Not only at the railway station, but also at the borders of the European Union.
“These people we are facing and seeing at the railway station shouldn’t be there.
“We have 2,000 to 3,000 illegal migrants arriving to Hungary daily, and obviously they have one thing in mind — to reach western Europe.”
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