Austria welcomes 4,000 refugees from Hungary, Germany, Finland to follow

"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."

September 5, 2015 11:11
4 minute read.
Migrants enter bus, which is supposed to leave to Austria and Germany, in Budapest, Hungary

Migrants enter bus, which is supposed to leave to Austria and Germany, in Budapest, Hungary, September 4, 2015.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

HEGYESHALOM - Thousands of exhausted migrants streamed into Austria on Saturday, bussed to the border by a Hungarian government that gave up trying to hold them back as Europe's asylum system buckled under pressure from the numbers reaching its frontiers.

After days of confrontation and chaos, Hungary's right-wing government deployed dozens of buses to move on migrants from the capital, Budapest, and pick up over 4,000 - many of them refugees from the Syrian war - who had set off by foot on Friday down the main highway to Vienna.

Austria said it had agreed with Germany that they 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.

Wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags against the rain, long lines of visibly exhausted migrants, many carrying small children, climbed off buses on the Hungarian side of the border and walked into Austria, receiving fruit and water from aid workers. Some 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."

Finland's prime minister, Juha Sipila, said on Saturday he would offer his own home to asylum seekers.

The home in Kempele, northern Finland, could house asylum seekers from the start of the year, Sipila told national broadcaster YLE, while calling all Finns to show solidarity with refugees heading to Europe to flee war and poverty.

He said an EU plan to redistribute 120,000 asylum seekers arriving in Greece, Italy and Hungary should be voluntary and hoped Finland could show an example in this regard.

Austrian police said 2,000 had arrived at the border, with many more likely to follow during the day. Trains were laid on to take them from the border town of Nickelsdorf to Vienna.

Hungary cited traffic safety for its decision to move the migrants on.

But it appeared to mark an admission that the government had lost control in the face of overwhelming numbers determined to reach the richer 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.

"Because of today's emergency situation on the Hungarian border, Austria and Germany agree in this case to a continuation of the refugees' journey into their countries," Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said on his Facebook page.

On Friday, hundreds broke out of an overcrowded camp on Hungary's border with Serbia; others escaped from a stranded train, sprinting away from riot police down railway tracks, while still more took to the highway by foot led by a one-legged Syrian refugee and chanting "Germany, Germany!"

The scenes were emblematic of a crisis that has left Europe groping for answers, and for unity.


Hungary has emerged as the main entry point for migrants reaching the EU by land across the Balkan Peninsula.

Orban, one of Europe's most outspoken critics of mass immigration, took to the airwaves to issue caustic warnings that Europeans could become a minority on their own continent.

But his government's plans for a crackdown appeared to be breaking down in the face of such large numbers headed for Germany, which had said Syrian refugees could register there regardless of where they enter the EU, contrary to EU rules.

More than 140,000 migrants have been recorded entering Hungary so far this year through the EU's external border with Serbia, where Orban's government is building a 3.5-metre (11.5-foot) high wall. Countless others may have entered without registering.

On the border, police gave chase and halted traffic on a nearby motorway after some 300 migrants fled a crowded reception center in Roszke near Serbia.

They were eventually caught, police said, but hundreds broke out again despite a ring of hundreds of officers in full riot gear, clutching shields. Some were taken away by bus.

In Bicske, west of Budapest, a two-day standoff ended after some 300 migrants managed to escape from a train held up by police demanding they disembark and go to a nearby reception center. The remainder went voluntarily.

"No camp. No Hungary. Freedom train," someone had written with shaving foam on the side of the train.

On Friday, lawmakers adopted some of a raft of measures creating "transit zones" on the border, where asylum seekers would be held until their requests are processed and deported if denied.

The measures introduce jail terms for those who cross the border without permission or damage the fence, and may eventually provide for the use of the army.

"Now we talk about hundreds of thousands but next year we will talk about millions and there is no end to this," Orban told public radio. "All of a sudden we will see that we are in a minority in our own continent."

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