Thursday 29 September 2016

Refugee crisis: Train stand off continues after Hungary tried to force migrants into camp

Published 04/09/2015 | 08:43

Migrants stage a protest in front of a train at Bicske railway station in Hungary Credit: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
Migrants stage a protest in front of a train at Bicske railway station in Hungary Credit: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

The tense stand-off between police and migrants on a train in Hungary is continuing into a second day after officials tried to force them off at a refugee camp to west of the capital.

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Thousands of people desperate to reach Western Europe rushed into Budapest's railway station after police ended a two-day blockade, setting off a wave of anger as hundreds shoved their way onto a waiting train.

But when it tried to drop them off at a Hungarian camp for asylum seekers, a bitter showdown began.

One man threw his wife and infant son onto the tracks, screaming in Arabic: "We won't move from here!"

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Police surrounded the prone family, pulled the husband away and handcuffed him as he wailed.

His wife and nappy-clad boy - apparently uninjured despite their stumbling descent onto the tracks - were freed and allowed to rejoin other migrants.

A man displays a sign out of a window of a train that was stopped in Hungary Credit: AP Photo/Petr David Josek
A man displays a sign out of a window of a train that was stopped in Hungary Credit: AP Photo/Petr David Josek

The scene of desperation was just one of many that unfolded as tempers flared in Hungary's war of wills with migrants trying to evade asylum checks and reach Western Europe.

Instead of heading to the Austrian border, the overloaded train stopped at Bicske, a town north-west of Budapest that holds one of the country's five camps for asylum seekers - facilities the migrants want to avoid as they do not want to pursue asylum claims in economically depressed Hungary.

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As the train platform filled with police came into view, those inside chanted their disapproval and their determination to reach Germany, their almost unanimous goal.

The crowd, angrily waving train tickets to Vienna and Munich, refused police orders to board buses to the asylum centre, pushing their way past police and back onto the train.

Over 150,000 migrants have reached Hungary this year, most coming through the southern border with Serbia Credit: AP Photo/Petr David Josek
Over 150,000 migrants have reached Hungary this year, most coming through the southern border with Serbia Credit: AP Photo/Petr David Josek

A day-long stand-off ensued in which police and charity workers took turns handing food and water to the passengers, only to have them tossed out train windows in protest.

One man shouted: "We don't need food and water! Just let us go to Germany!"

Children held up handwritten signs reading: "Let's Go Germany."

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About 100 police kept watch on the train, barring media from the platform, but did not remove the migrants by force.

The head of police border control, Colonel Laszlo Balazs, said 16 people voluntarily checked into the asylum centre, while about 500 others refused.

He said officers were using loudspeakers to inform those who would not comply of "their legal obligations".

Back at the Budapest railway station, announcements in Hungarian and English - but not Arabic, the language of most of those gathered inside - declared that all services from the station to Western Europe had been cancelled.

Conditions at Keleti station have grown increasingly unsanitary despite the efforts of volunteers distributing water, food, medicine and disinfectants.

The numbers of those stuck there have swelled since Hungary reversed course on Tuesday after allowing more than 2,000 migrants to travel on trains heading west the day before.

The question of how to manage the crisis was hotly debated in Brussels at meetings between EU leaders and Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban.

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Hungarian MPs face a key vote later today on whether to tighten border controls as migrants try to pass through to their preferred destination, Germany.

Hungary's anti-immigrant prime minister warned European partners that he intends to make his country's borders an impassible fortress for new arrivals.

"We Hungarians are full of fear," Mr Orban told a Brussels news conference, warning that the acceptance of so many Muslims from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere would erode Europe's Christian bedrock.

"I think we have a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country.

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"We do not like the consequences," he added, referring to the country's 150-year history of Ottoman rule during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Mr Orban confirmed his government's plan to send at least 3,000 troops to Hungary's southern border with Serbia, where police patrols, razor-wire coils and a 13ft fence are already in place to deter new arrivals from the non-EU member.

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