Crisis flows inward
Thousands of asylum seekers have flooded Hungary’s borders, seeking safe passage into western Europe and away from crises in places like Syria, Eritrea, and Somalia. This mass migration, however, has caused its own crisis. The European Union wasn’t ready for such a rapid and intense saturation of migrants, and the continent experienced a split with regards to how the influx should be handled. Some western countries, led by Germany and France, encouraged their neighbors to relax their policies and expand provisions for migrants; Hungary, however, was one of a handful of countries that held to its strict policies governing asylum.
All that changed on Friday, when the Hungarian government backed down on its refusal to move migrants within its borders, and began busing thousands of people to the Austrian border.
The late-night offer came after days of efforts to repel migrants fleeing war and poverty who have streamed into Hungary in a bid to reach Western Europe, where they hope to begin new lives. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had painted his hard-line approach against the mostly Muslim asylum-seekers as a stand to preserve Europe as a Christian continent.
But after a column of migrants more than a mile long streamed onto Hungary’s main highway to Austria, it appeared that authorities felt they had no alternative but to pass the challenge to their neighbor, another country that has been ambivalent about the influx.
By early Saturday morning, the first asylum seekers began to walk across the border into Austria after having been dropped off by buses on the Hungarian side. The buses had picked people up at Budapest’s main train station. After initial hesitation, the crowds began to climb on board, relieved to be en route out of Hungary.
At Keleti train station in Budapest, where thousands of migrants had camped out for nearly a week, the central plaza was nearly empty on Saturday morning except for a maintenance crew hosing down the site.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann took to Facebook to explain that Austria and Germany agreed to funnel migrants flowing out of Hungary to their final destinations in western Europe.
This is a sharp departure from Hungarian policy as it manifested earlier this week, when the government shut down its train stations, preventing migrants from boarding trains bound for western Europe:
Hungary’s right-wing nationalist government defended its U-turn — just days after it started permitting migrants on the trains without any coherent immigration controls at all — as necessary to send a get-tough signal. Cabinet ministers told lawmakers that the nation, struggling to cope with more than 150,000 arrivals this year, was determined to seal its borders to unwelcome travelers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Confusion reigned at Budapest’s central Keleti train station as migrants arrived with tickets in hand, often costing 200 euros ($225) each or more, intending to take the morning service to Vienna and the southern German city of Munich. Barring their way were lines of maroon-capped Hungarian police, some of them in body armor.
Police initially suspended all services at Keleti and blocked its grand main entrance. Within hours, non-migrant passengers were allowed through a side entrance after showing passports, visas or other national IDs, while Hungarian speakers were waved through.
Hungarian State Railways announced it would not sell tickets to customers without proper ID and, where required, visas. It said customers could buy tickets only for themselves unless they showed valid IDs and visas for every passenger.
Global awareness of the crisis in Europe soared this week following the circulation of a photograph of a dead migrant toddler. 2 year old Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach after the boat he and his family were traveling in capsized.DONATE
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