Confrontation as Hungary police force migrants off train

The conflict follows a two-day standoff with police barring entry to more than 2,000 migrants.

FILE: Migrants and refugees crowd the platforms at the Keleti (eastern) railway station in Budapest on 1 September, 2015. Picture: AFP.

HUNGARY - Hungarian police halted a train packed with migrants bound for the Austrian border and tried to force them to disembark in a town with a detention camp on Thursday, a confrontation that has become a focus of Europe's migration crisis.

After shutting migrants out of the main train station in the capital Budapest for two days, authorities allowed exhausted and confused migrants to board a westbound train. Hundreds crammed aboard clinging to doors and squeezing their children through open carriage windows.

But instead of proceeding to the Austrian border, the train was stopped just west of Budapest in the town of Bicske, where Hungary has a migration reception centre, and police ordered the migrants off.

Police cleared one carriage, while five more stood at the station in the heat. Fearing detention, some migrants banged on windows chanting "No camp! No camp!"

One group pushed back dozens of riot police guarding a stairwell to fight their way back on board. One family, a man, his wife and their toddler made their way along the track next to the train and lay down in protest. It took a dozen riot police wrestling with the man to get them up again.

Thousands of people have died at sea and scores have perished on land in Europe's worst migration crisis since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

European public opinion was galvanised by images of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy face down in the surf on a Turkish beach which appeared on the front pages of newspapers across the continent on Thursday.

"He had a name: Alyan Kurdi. Urgent action required, A Europe-wide mobilisation is urgent," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Twitter of the boy, one of at least 12 people who died out of a group of 23 who attempted to reach a Greek island.

The influx has strained the European Union's asylum system to breaking point, sowing division among its 28 nations and feeding the rise of right-wing populists.

The major EU countries have taken sharply opposing positions on whether to offer welcome. Germany plans to receive 800,000 refugees this year, while Britain has set up a programme to allow in vulnerable Syrians that has admitted just 216.

"As one of the world's richest countries, with good infrastructure, a viable welfare state and a solid budget surplus, we are in a position to rise to the occasion," German Labor and Social Affairs Minister Andrea Nahles said at a briefing ahead of a G20 meeting in Turkey.

By contrast, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday the problem could not be solved by Britain taking more refugees.

Nearly all of the migrants arrive on the EU's southern and eastern edges but press on for richer countries further north and west, creating havoc for a bloc that normally allows free movement internally but restricts it for undocumented migrants.


The train's departure from Budapest followed a two-day standoff with police barring entry to the station to more than 2,000 migrants. On Thursday the police stepped aside and the crowd surged past. Some were wary of boarding trains, unsure where they were headed.

"We want to go to Germany but that train in the station, maybe it goes nowhere. We heard it may go to a camp. So we will stay out here and wait," said Ysra Mardini, a 17-year-old from the Syrian capital Damascus, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt.

As the train departed, lawmakers in Budapest were debating a raft of amendments to Hungary's migration laws that the ruling party said would cut illegal border crossings to "zero".

They provide for the creation of holding zones on the country's southern border with Serbia, where construction crews are completing a 3.5-metre-high fence.

Hungary has emerged as a flashpoint, as the primary entry point for those travelling overland across the Balkans.

Its right-wing government is among the continent's most outspoken voices against encouraging mass immigration and says European officials have made the matter worse by failing to enforce rules.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in Brussels for talks with other EU leaders, said Europeans were "full of fear because they see that the European leaders ... are not able to control the situation".

In an opinion piece for Germany's Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, he wrote that his country was being "overrun" with refugees, most of which, he noted, were Muslims, not Christians.

"That is an important question, because Europe and European culture have Christian roots," he said.

The image of the drowned toddler on the Turkish beach could shift opinion on the continent, just days after 71 dead bodies were discovered in the back of a truck in Austria.

Even Britain's right-wing Sun tabloid, criticised by the United Nations for a column in April that referred to migrants as "cockroaches", demanded action from its prime minister, who has refused to accept an EU quota of refugees.

"Mr Cameron, summer is over.... Now deal with the biggest crisis facing Europe since WW2," read a headline on its front page above the image of the lifeless boy being carried away in a red T-shirt, blue shorts and tiny sneakers.


The boy's relatives said the family were trying to reach Canada via Europe when they set off from the Turkish coast for the Greek island of Kos. His 5-year-old brother Galip and mother Rehan, 35, also died. His father, Abdullah, was found semi-conscious and taken to hospital.

An aunt in Vancouver, Teema Kurdi, said she heard the news from another aunt: "She had got a call from Abdullah, and all he said was, my wife and two boys are dead," she was quoted as saying in Canada's National Post newspaper. |

The crisis has confounded the EU, which is committed to the principle of accepting refugees fleeing real danger but has no mechanism to compel its 28 member states to share the burden.

German Prime Minister Angela Merkel has emerged as a leader on the issue, arguing that providing refuge for those fleeing persecution and war is a fundamental obligation.

Germany has begun accepting asylum claims from Syrian refugees regardless of where they entered the bloc, suspending rules which normally require them to register and remain in the first EU country they reach. More than 100,000 asylum seekers arrived last month alone in Germany.

But Berlin's openness has raised questions about the future of Europe's Schengen system, which abolished border controls between 26 states but still requires them to prevent undocumented migrants from travelling.

Germany's neighbours have alternated this week between letting migrants pass through and blocking them. Hungary allowed thousands to board westward trains on Monday but then called a halt to the travel, leaving migrants camped in the summer heat in central Budapest.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to unveil proposals in an annual state-of-the-union address to the European Parliament next week. Interior ministers hold an emergency meeting five days later.