Germany Greets Thousands of Refugees as Hungary Lifts BlockClaudia Rach, Marton Eder and Boris Groendahl
Thousands of refugees who had been stranded in Hungary were allowed to cross Austria and began arriving in Germany on Saturday, as Europe faced a mounting influx of distressed migrants.
After phone calls late Friday between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, the decision was made to let refugees in Hungary, many of them Syrians, into Austria and Germany, Georg Streiter, Germany’s deputy spokesman, said by telephone.
Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban agreed in a telephone conversation that allowing the migrants over the Hungarian border was an “exception” and that European Union rules on refugees should apply, according to a statement from Merkel’s office. Those rules, known as the Dublin agreements, require refugees to be registered and processed in the country of arrival.
Leaders across Europe are struggling to agree on how to deal with the region’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II. The conflict in Syria, which erupted after the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, has displaced more than 6 million people internally and sent more than 4 million registered refugees to other countries, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
The first of an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people arrived at Austria’s border in buses in the early hours, and a special train at Nickelsdorf on the Hungarian border brought refugees to Vienna and Salzburg. The initial train, holding 167 people, arrived in Munich from Austria at 10:25 a.m. local time. As many as 10,000 refugees are expected in Bavaria this weekend, a spokesman for the German federal police said.
Germany and Austria had agreed to take on the refugees after hundreds broke out of assembly points in Hungary and tried to head for Austria on foot.
Wassim al-Hassan, a 29 year-old mechanical engineer from Syria, said from Budapest that he had left his wife and daughter at home because of concerns about the safety of his boat to Greece, which many had died on.
“We have left the train station because Hungarian police won’t let us get on trains to Austria,” he said in an interview on Saturday while walking along one of Budapest’s main thoroughfares. “We are going by foot and hope we will be picked up by buses.”
About 180 kilometers (112 miles) ahead of him in Nickelsdorf, Austria, Ammar, a 21 year-old hairdresser from Damascus, arrived on Saturday after leaving Lebanon 24 days ago. He hopes to reach his uncle in Stuttgart, Germany.
“Hungarian police is bad, very bad,” he said while waiting with several hundred refugees for a shuttle bus to Vienna. “They beat people, many people, even children.”
Some have “eye injuries which they say come from flashbangs the Hungarian police used,” said Andreas Zenker, a regional Red Cross commander in Nickelsdorf. Most of the injured don’t wan’t to interrupt their journey to seek treatment, he said: “They clench their teeth and only want to move on.”
In Austria, state rail firm OeBB Holding AG scheduled additional trains and created 4,600 extra seats on its network on Saturday, according to a spokeswoman for the company. In Salzburg, near the German border, trains full of refugees now arrive every 30 to 60 minutes.
Hungarian authorities provided more than 90 buses from Budapest’s main railway station as an “extraordinary one-time measure,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told BBC Television on Saturday.
“The fundamental problem is still the pull-factor that is being transmitted by Germany and Austria,” he said. “We are not going to be able to stop the flood of illegal migrants.”
EU leaders have sparred over how to address the influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. While Merkel has appealed to other EU states to take in more people, Orban and others want tighter rules and a plan to secure the 28-member bloc’s external borders.
“Everybody pities the people that need to be the subject of action,” Orban said on M1 state television. “But, it isn’t a solution to let them bring life in the country to a halt. We need to force them into order and cooperation without using physical force.”
The crisis has roiled the political climate across the EU. Merkel said in her weekly podcast on Saturday that Germany must preserve budgetary discipline even amid rising costs for feeding and sheltering asylum seekers. Accommodation of refugees and integration of those who stay permanently is a “national task,” she said.
Merkel wrote a joint letter with French President Francois Hollande to EU officials with proposals on how to deal with the crisis, including binding distribution with EU countries, but no concrete numbers.
Europe has a “moral and legal duty” to harbor refugees, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters in Luxembourg after meeting of foreign ministers.
Austria’s Faymann called on Europe to take a decision. “Either we return the Nobel Peace Prize or we show how we’re treating these people that are looking for protection.”
Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila will offer his own home to refugees from the start of 2016 when it becomes vacant, and has encouraged others Finns to do the same, he said in interview with state-owned Yle TV1 on Saturday.
In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to take in “thousands more” refugees from Syria, yielding to pressure within his own party, after images of a dead toddler who washed up on a Turkish beach dominated the international media on Thursday. The Scottish National Party will devote time on Sept. 9 to a parliamentary debate on the crisis.
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