Hungary Offers to Bus Migrants to Austrian Border

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
September 4, 2015 Updated: September 5, 2015

BICSKE, Hungary— Hundreds of migrants, stymied by Hungarian authorities who had halted trains to Germany, began a final march toward freedom Friday, breaking away from police and heading on foot for the western border.

In a bid to ease the crisis, the Hungarian government said in a surprise announcement Friday night it was dispatching buses to take hundreds of the marchers to the border with Austria. It was not clear what their fate would be there.

With people streaming in long lines along highways from a Budapest train station and one near a migrant reception center in the northern town of Bicske, the buses would be used because “transportation safety can’t be put at risk,” said Janos Lazar, chief of staff to the prime minister.

“A migration crisis is shaking Hungary,” Lazar said, blaming Germany’s “contradictory communications” and the European Union for the crisis.

There was no answer whether Austria will let the migrants in. Lazar said Hungary had asked Austria to clarify its position on the migrants but had not yet received an answer.

The buses will take passengers to the main Hegyeshalom crossing with Austria, although it’s not clear if they will trust authorities and get on the buses. Some were tricked earlier in the week to get on a train that did not go to Austria.

“This is a opportunity,” Lazar said. “The immigrants have to decide whether they want to take advantage of it. We are taking this step so Hungary’s transportation is not paralyzed during the next 24 hours.”

The asylum-seekers — many from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — had already made dangerous treks in scorching heat, under barbed wire on Hungary’s southern frontier and faced the hostility of some locals along the way. Their first stop will be Austria, on Hungary’s western border, though most hope to eventually reach Germany.

Hungarian authorities had refused to let them board trains to the west, and they balked at going to processing centers for migrants, fearing they would then be forced to live in Hungary.

A large group of asylum-seekers walk  out of Budapest, Hungary, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
A large group of asylum-seekers walk out of Budapest, Hungary, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Under European law, refugees are supposed to seek asylum in the first European Union country that they enter. But most of them see limited economic opportunities and a less-welcoming atmosphere in Hungary than in Germany, Sweden and other Western nations.

Earlier Friday, Parliament tightened its immigration rules, approving the creation of transit zones on the border with Serbia where migrants would be kept until asylum requests were decided within eight days. Migrants would have limited chance to appeal those decisions.

In what the Hungarian media called a “day of uprisings,” about 350 people broke through a police cordon in Bicske and began heading to Austria 135 kilometers (85 miles) to the west on tracks leading away from the railway station. Surprised riot police scrambled for their helmets as the huge crowd suddenly surged from the front of the train.

One man, a 51-year-old Pakistani, collapsed about 800 meters (yards) from the station as he fled and died despite efforts to rescue him.

Those left behind, mostly women and children, were boarded onto buses and taken to the nearby asylum center.

Hours earlier, about 2,000 people set out from Budapest’s Keleti station for a 171-kilometer (106-mile) journey toward Austria. Police tried to block them at first but quickly gave up. The marchers moved fast, and by nightfall they had already covered about 50 kilometers (30 miles).

Along the way, there were gestures of support from Hungarians. Many flashed them the V-for-victory sign and some handed out bottles of water. A small number of locals made clear the new arrivals were not welcome.

“Go home already!” a man shouted in Hungarian from a passing car.

Osama Morzar, 23, from Aleppo, Syria, was so determined not to be registered in Hungary that he used acid on his fingertips, holding his hand up for a reporter to see.

“The government of Hungary is very bad,” said Morzar, who studied pharmacology at Aleppo’s university. “The United Nations should help.”

A disabled migrant wearing a poster of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on his neck as hundreds of migrants walk on a highway after leaving the transit zone of the Budapest main train station, on September 4, 2015 intenting on walking to the Austrian border. They were part of an estimated 2,000 migrants stuck in makeshift refugee camps at Keleti station, after railway authorities had blocked them from boarding trains to Austria and Germany. AFP PHOTO / FERENC ISZA        (Photo credit should read FERENC ISZA/AFP/Getty Images)
A disabled migrant wearing a poster of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on his neck as hundreds of migrants walk on a highway after leaving the transit zone of the Budapest main train station, on September 4, 2015 intenting on walking to the Austrian border. (Ferenc Isza/AFP/Getty Images)

A couple from Baghdad, Mohammed and Zahara, who marched with a toddler, said they had been in a Hungarian asylum camp and got roughed up by guards because they refused to be fingerprinted. She said she has family in Belgium and is determined to seek asylum there. They would not give their last names.

Austrian police were preparing main border points with reception areas and first-aid facilities. Hans Peter Doskozil, police chief in easternmost Burgeland province, said the measures should be sufficient for the initial influx.

Saleh Abdurahman, a Palestinian refugee from Syria who marched from Budapest, said he was set on escaping a Middle East made intolerable by wars that he blames on the United States and Europe.

The International Organization for Migration said more than 364,000 migrants have arrived in Europe this year — and over 2,800 have died along the way, most in the sea crossing from North Africa.

Greece and Italy have seen more than 245,000 and nearly 117,000 arrive respectively, most by sea.

In Kobani, Syria, 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi was buried Friday, along with his mother and 5-year-old brother. They were among 12 migrants who drowned off the Turkish coast of Bodrum on Wednesday, and a photo of Aylan’s body in the surf has captured the world’s attention as a symbol of the migration crisis.

The grieving father, Abdullah Kurdi, survived the tragedy. He said he was abandoning thought of leaving his homeland again.

“He only wanted to go to Europe for the sake of his children,” said Suleiman Kurdi, an uncle of the father. “Now that they’re dead, he wants to stay here in Kobani next to them.”

Migrants protest outside a train that they are refusing to leave for fear of being taken to a refugee camp from the train that has been held at Bicske station since yesterday on September 4, 2015 in Bicske, near Budapest, Hungary. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Migrants protest outside a train that they are refusing to leave for fear of being taken to a refugee camp from the train that has been held at Bicske station since yesterday on September 4, 2015 in Bicske, near Budapest, Hungary. (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said four suspected human traffickers were detained in connection with the drownings and face charges of smuggling and involuntary manslaughter. The four, including a Syrian national, were being questioned Friday by a court in the Turkish resort town of Bodrum, it reported.

In Geneva, the head of the U.N. refugee agency urged the European Union to create a “mass relocation program … with the mandatory participation of all EU member states” for would-be recipients who clear a screening process.

Antonio Guterres said a “very preliminary estimate” would be for the creation of at least 200,000 places to be added across the bloc.

Hungary said more than 163,000 migrants had crossed its land border.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the human wave is a German problem, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the obligation to protect refugees “applies not just in Germany, but in every European member.”

Orban reiterated on Hungarian state radio Friday his determination to stop the refugees.

“Today we are talking about tens of thousands but next year we will be talking about millions and this has no end,” Orban said.

“We have to make it clear that we can’t allow everyone in, because if we allow everyone in, Europe is finished,” Orban went on. “If you are rich and attractive to others, you also have to be strong because if not, they will take away what you have worked for and you will be poor, too.”