5 Sep 2015

Refugee crisis: thousands arrive in Austria

Thousands of refugees and migrants cross into Austria after the Hungarian authorities give up on trying to seal its borders.

In a surprise move, the Hungarian government laid on buses for thousands of people wanting to travel to Austria. For days Hungary had blocked people from boarding trains leaving for Western Europe.

Over 4,000 exhausted migrants arrived in Austria overnight wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags. Many carried small, sleeping children and were welcomed with food and water by Austrian aid workers.

“We’re happy. We’ll go to Germany,” said a Syrian man who gave his name as Mohammed. Another, who declined to be named, said: “Hungary should be fired from the European Union. Such bad treatment.”

Germany said it expected to receive up to 10,000 people on Saturday. Austria expected many more arrivals during the course of the weekend. Austria said it had agreed with Germany that it would allow the migrants access, waiving asylum rules that require them to register in the first EU state they reach.

On Friday, thousands of frustrated refugees and migrants set off on foot towards Austria and Germany. Hours later, vehicles were sent to pick up people who had decided to walk along a motorway towards the Austrian border.

Buses also picked people up from Budapest’s Keleti railway station, where thousands had been camped for days.

The majority of the refugees arriving in Austria are fleeing war-torn Syria. More than 350,000 refugees and migrants have reached the borders of the Europe Union this year.

In recent weeks, many have arrived in Hungary after travelling from Greece through Balkan countries. Thousands continue to arrive in Southern Europe after crossing the Mediterranean Sea, usually in rickety boats. Over 2,000 have died at sea so far this year, including 30-40 on Friday who were reported drowned off Libya’s coast.

A record 50,000 hit Greek shores in July alone and were ferried from islands unable to cope to the mainland by a government already floundering in financial crisis and keen to dispatch them promptly north into Macedonia, when they then enter Serbia and then Hungary.

Hungary said on Saturday it had recorded some 165,000 entering so far this year. Countless others may have crossed its borders without registering.