BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Upset migrants chanted “Freedom! Freedom!” and demanded to use their train tickets Tuesday after Hungary temporarily suspended all rail traffic from its main terminal in Budapest and cleared the station of hundreds of migrants trying to board trains for Austria and Germany.
Chaos enveloped Budapest’s Keleti train station, where thousands of migrants have left by rail in the last few days to those two wealthy EU countries, their chosen destinations in their flight from turmoil in the Mideast and Asia. Rail tickets have become especially popular after 71 migrants apparently suffocated last week in a Hungarian truck that was found abandoned in Austria.
European nations this year have been overwhelmed by a torrent of migrants fleeing violence and poverty, with over 332,000 arriving so far, and have disagreed strongly on how to handle the crush. Germany has taken on far more migrants than others in the 28-nation bloc, while the front-line border nations of Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary have faced police clashes with migrants, scuffles between migrants and even deaths at sea as thousands daily cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy smugglers’ boats.
Scuffles broke out Tuesday morning in Budapest as hundreds of migrants pushed toward the metal gates where a train was to leave for Vienna and Munich and were blocked by police.
Authorities announced over station loudspeakers that all trains would be stopped from leaving for an indefinite period. Migrants’ papers were checked, and those with train tickets but no EU visas were ushered out of the cavernous station.
Outside, hundreds who had spent heavily on the tickets angrily chanted “Germany!” and U.N!”
Mohammed, a 24-year-old economist from the Syrian city of Aleppo, said the chaos was the worst he has seen since leaving Syria. He had bought a ticket to Munich for 200 euros ($225) after Hungarian police told him Monday night they would be allowed to leave. But despite showing a valid Syrian passport Tuesday to police guarding the train platform, he was told he could not get on it because he did not have a visa for Germany.
He refused to give his last name to an AP reporter because of concerns about his family still in Aleppo
“This is crazy,” said Baba Mujhse, a Egyptian-Hungarian volunteer at the Keleti train terminal, as he carried a small boy separated from his family in the uproar. “This (travel ban) is not a solution to anything.”
Hours later, train service was restored for passengers with valid travel documents but not the migrants.
Hungary’s Interior Minister announced that over 156,000 “illegal migrants” had entered the country as of Tuesday, with around 142,000 requesting asylum, including 45,000 Syrians.
Hungary’s train crackdown appeared prompted in part by pressure from other European Union nations trying to cope with the influx of migrants. Austrian Police in Vienna said Tuesday that 3,650 migrants arrived Monday from Hungary at the city’s Westbahnhof station, with most continuing toward Germany.
“Allowing them to simply board in Budapest … and watching as they are taken to the neighbor (Austria) — that’s not politics,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann told state broadcaster ORF.
Reacting to the criticism, Hungary’s government announced that Prime Minister Viktor Orban will discuss the migrant crisis Thursday in Brussels with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Council President Donald Tusk, and European Parliament President Martin Schulz.
While critical of Hungary, Austrian authorities also acknowledged they were overwhelmed by the thousands who arrived by rail Monday evening. Police said they did not have the manpower to carry out effective controls, which normally would include sending migrants without proper travel documents back to Hungary.
Trouble at the train stations was matched by delays on the highways as Austrian authorities re-imposed border controls at main crossings from Hungary. The traffic news agency Utinform said vehicles at the Hegyeshalom crossing on the main highway from Budapest to Vienna were backed up 6 kilometers (3½ miles) Tuesday due to Austrian inspections.
Tensions flared again Tuesday at Greece’s northern border with Macedonia, where about 1,500 migrants are waiting to cross. Fights and scuffles broke out among the crowd near the Greek village of Idomeni, after migrants mainly from Afghanistan and Pakistan attempted to rush past Macedonian border police.
In Geneva, the U.N.’s children’s agency said the number of women and children fleeing through Macedonia has tripled in the past three months. It said up to 3,000 people a day are passing through the border and roughly one in eight is a pregnant woman.
Greece’s coast guard, meanwhile, said it had rescued nearly 1,200 migrants from the sea off its eastern Aegean islands in the last 24 hours — an unusually high number.
Associated Press writers George Jahn in Vienna, Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece and Jamie Keaten in Geneva contributed