BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hundreds of angry migrants demonstrated outside Budapest’s shuttered Eastern Railway Terminus on Tuesday, demanding that they be allowed to travel on to Germany, as a migration crisis put the European Union’s rules under unprecedented strain.
Hungarian authorities closed the train station altogether, then reopened it but barred entry to the migrants. About 100 police in helmets and wielding batons guarded the station. Dozens of migrants who were inside were forced out.
Around 1,000 people waved tickets, clapping, booing and hissing, and shouting “Germany! Germany!” outside the station. Later they sat down, staring down at a police blockade at the entrance of the station.
The arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants has confounded the European Union, which has eliminated all border controls for travel between 26 countries of its Schengen area but requires those seeking asylum to remain in the country where they first arrive until their applications are processed.
The vast majority of those arriving first reach the continent’s southern and eastern edges and are determined to travel across Europe and seek asylum in more generous countries further north and west.
Hungary is on a major overland transit route from the Middle East and Africa for refugees who flee violence and economic migrants escaping poverty, with more than 140,000 people crossing its southern border with Serbia this year alone.
The crisis prompted the government in Budapest to reinforce the border with a razor wire fence and deploy thousands of extra police to try to funnel the flow of migrants to legal channels rather than allowing them through unchecked.
Faced with the enormous pressure of thousands upon thousands of migrants arriving in Budapest, Hungary let them board westbound trains on Monday before unexpectedly shuttering the train station again on Tuesday morning.
Government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs, when asked why the railway terminus was closed, said Hungary was trying to enforce EU law, which requires anyone who wishes to travel within Europe to hold a valid passport and a Schengen visa.
“From what (German) Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday it is clear that everyone has to adhere to EU law, and the Hungarian authorities acted in that spirit,” Kovacs told Reuters in an emailed statement.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a Twitter post on Monday that everyone who comes to Hungary must seek asylum there.
Hassan, a 47-year-old Syrian, said he and two friends had each bought tickets to Germany for a total of 370 euros.
“They took 125 euros for each ticket to Munich or Berlin, then they stopped and forced us from station,” he said. “(They) said station is closed. They said no trains, this station is closed.”
Marah, a 20 year-old girl from Aleppo, Syria, who travelled with her family, said they had bought 6 tickets for a RailJet train that was scheduled to leave for Vienna at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
“They should find a solution,” she told Reuters. “We are thousands here, where should we go?”
Reporting by Budapest bureau; Writing by Marton Dunai; Editing by Peter Graff