BICSKE, Hungary (Reuters) - Hundreds of migrants, including Syrian refugees, were stranded on a train in Hungary for a second day on Friday, demanding passage to Germany in a standoff with riot police.
They spent the night on packed carriages at a railway station west of Budapest, having left the capital on Thursday morning believing they were heading for Austria, Germany and the end of a sometimes perilous journey from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Riot police halted the train at Bicske, some 35 kilometres west of Budapest, ordering the migrants to a nearby camp for processing asylum seekers. Scuffles broke out when the migrants refused, some fleeing or throwing themselves on the tracks in the latest desperate scenes of Europe’s worst migration crisis since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.
As morning broke, cries of “No camp, freedom!” rang out. On the side of the train, someone had written “No camp. No Hungary. Freedom train” with shaving foam. Dozens of riot police looked on. They had brought food and water to the migrants, some of whom refused. Sanitary conditions risked deteriorating fast in the late summer heat.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” said Ahmed Mahmoud, 60, who said he was a former Iraqi military officer who had lost both legs and was trying to join his daughter in Belgium.
“The police told us, get fingerprinted or face jail time. So we gave our fingerprints and they told us we can go. But we can’t go to the west. I just want to see my child in Belgium.”
Hungary’s right-wing prime minister, Viktor Orban, took to the airwaves to defend his country’s stance, saying Budapest was defending Europe’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel.
Hungary has hit out at Germany, which expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year, for saying it would accept requests from Syrians regardless of where they entered the European Union, contrary to EU rules. Orban’s government says this is spurring the flight, and is building a fence and tightening migration rules that it says will close Hungary off to migrants as of Sept. 15.
Over 140,000 have been registered entering Hungary this year, part of a huge flight of people escaping war and poverty for Europe by rickety boat across the Mediterranean or by land across the Balkan peninsula.
“The reality is that Europe is threatened by a mass inflow of people, many tens of millions of people could come to Europe,” Orban told public radio in a regular Friday interview.
“Now we talk about hundreds of thousands but next year we will talk about millions and there is no end to this,” he said.
“All of a sudden we will see that we are in a minority in our own continent.”
The train had left Budapest on Thursday morning after a two-day standoff at the city’s main railway station as police barred entry to some 2,000 migrants. Hungary says they must be registered, as per EU rules, but many refuse, fearing they will be sent back to Hungary if caught later in western and northern Europe.
Parliament in Budapest is expected to endorse on Friday some of a raft of measures to effectively seal Hungary’s southern border with Serbia to migrants, creating holding zones on the frontier where migrants will be held while their papers are processed and potentially sent back into Serbia.
“Everyone should be prepared for this: Serbia, Macedonia, the immigrants, the human traffickers,” said Orban. “We ourselves will prepare for this, and a different era will start from Sept 15.”
Additional reporting by Krisztina Than in BUDAPEST; Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Janet McBride