Thursday

18th Oct 2018

Hungary U-turn on migrant trains prompts unrest

  • Police cleared the migrant camp at Budapest's main train station on Tuesday morning (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Hundreds of migrants in Budapest on Tuesday (1 September) demanded to be allowed to go to Germany, after authorities barred them from boarding trains heading west.

The crowd of Syrian, Afghan, and Central Asian asylum seekers chanted “Freedom! Freedom!”, “Let us go!”, and “Germany! UN!”.

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Scuffles also broke out between the migrants and police.

On Monday, hundreds of asylum seekers left Budapest for Austria and Germany.

But in what appears to be a policy U-turn, police, on Tuesday morning, cordoned off the main train station in Budapest and cleared the migrants’ makeshift camps.

They then let only people with proper travel documents on trains, but stopped the migrants, even if they had valid tickets.

Almost none of the asylum seekers wants to stay in Hungary, with Germany the preferred destination.

Under EU rules, they have to be registered at their point-of-entry into the EU. If they later surface elsewhere, they should be sent back to the country of registration.

Berlin said last week it would let Syrian refugees stay in the country regardless of the EU protocol.

But German chancellor Angela Merkel told Hungarian authorities they still have to register and process the asylum applications, in an attempt to clear up any misunderstanding.

Zoltan Kovacs, the Hungarian government spokesman, did not confirm if Merkel’s comments caused Tuesday’s U-turn.

But he told this website “the chancellor’s speech made it clear migrants cannot travel without proper papers”.

For his part, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban is going to Brussels on Thursday to meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to clarify the situation.

“Every contradiction, which makes this situation more difficult, will be discussed”, said Kovacs, in thinly-veiled criticism of Germany.

Speaking about Austria, he added: “We are protecting Europe’s borders. If we do everything we can, we are criticised for it, if we don’t, then Austria does what it does now".

He spoke after Vienna reintroduced border controls on the Austria-Hungary border, which is in the EU’s passport-free Schengen area.

Austria took the step after police found a truck on an Austrian motorway near Hungary, containing the bodies of 71 refugees who had suffocated.

According to official data, 150,400 migrants have come to Hungary so far this year.

The figure is triple the number for all of last year (45,000), which was already record-high.

Budapest also summoned the Austrian ambassador on Tuesday after Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann condemned Hungary’s prior decision to let the asylum seekers onto trains.

Faymann, speaking on state broadcaster ORF on Monday, had said: “Allowing them to simply board in Budapest ... and watching as they are taken to a neighbour [Austria] - that's not politics”.

Hungary has also attracted EU criticism for building a razor-wire fence on its border with Serbia.

Orban and Faymann are the only two EU leaders who have refused to take part in the European Commission’s voluntary scheme to relocate asylum seekers and refugees.

Following his Juncker meeting, Orban will also meet with Czech, Polish, and Slovak leaders in Prague on Friday.

The mini summit is designed to reiterate opposition to any binding EU relocation plan.

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