Hungary closes railway station, stops stream of migrants

Hungarian authorities have shut down Budapest’s main train station, stranding hundreds of migrants, mostly from conflict-ridden areas of the Middle East, who are trying to travel on to Austria and Germany.

An announcement over the loudspeakers at the Eastern Railway station on Tuesday declared that no trains would leave or arrive until further notice and demanded all passengers immediately vacate the area.

Hundreds of police escorted the migrants out of the station and blocked their reentry. There were no reports of clashes, unlike earlier in the day, when hundreds tried to board a Vienna-bound train but were blocked by police.

Austrian authorities say a total of 3,650 migrants, the highest daily total this year, arrived in Vienna on Monday. It is the latest in a staggering wave of people desperately seeking asylum in the European Union.

Under EU rules, migrants must seek asylum in the first country they enter. That means Hungary is technically prevented from allowing the migrants from passing on to Austria and Germany, the preferred destination for many.

But the rules have left the migrants in limbo, since many have neither the necessary documents nor the money to purchase train tickets. Some have formed makeshift camps outside the train station.

When asked why officials had closed the train station and stopped the migrants from leaving, a Hungary government spokesman on Tuesday said officials are trying to adhere to EU law.

On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on other countries in Europe to do more to share the burden of the wave of migrants, but some of Germany’s neighbors are resisting her appeal.

“If Europe fails on the question of refugees,” the German leader said in Berlin, “if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for.”

Germany has accepted more refugees than any other European country, a total that could reach 800,000 by the end of the year; but, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are among countries that have blocked a plan for European Union member states to accept specific numbers of refugees.

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico said his country “will never agree” to a quota on the number of refugees it will accept.  He said most of the migrants heading to Europe from war-wracked countries in the Middle East and Africa are making the dangerous journey to Europe for economic reasons and should be returned to their homelands.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Sunday accused eastern European states, particularly Hungary, of “scandalous” policies toward migrants that go against European Union values.  Budapest is building a four-meter fence along its southern border with Serbia to keep migrants from crossing into Hungary.

Hungary’s state secretary, Levente Magyar, told the national news agency that the government rejected all “mean adjectives and accusations” made by Fabius.

The head of the International Organization for Migration, General William Lacy Swing, said aid groups like his are willing to help European governments deal with the influx of migrants, but that some parts of Europe needed to overcome the “fear factor” about accepting the refugees.


(Photo of Budapest Keleti railway station: © Ralf Roletschek – Fahrradtechnik und Fotografie)