Migrants threw themselves onto railway lines and scuffled with helmeted riot police trying to take them to a reception centre in Hungary today (3 September), while the country’s Prime Minister, Victor Orbán, said the crisis was a “German problem”.
EU officials keep repeating that the unprecedented exodus to Europe of asylum-seekers from Syria and other countries is a “European problem”. But Orbán, who is in Brussels today for meetings with the EU top officials, sees it differently.
“The problem is not European, it’s German. Nobody would like to stay in Hungary, neither Slovakia, Poland or Estonia,” Orbán said during a press conference in Brussels after talks with European Parliament President Martin Schulz.
“All of them would like to go to Germany,” he repeated, adding that the only job for Hungary was to register them as asylum-seekers.
“So if the German Chancellor insists that nobody can leave Hungary without registration towards Germany, we will register them. It’s a must,” he said.
While he was speaking, migrants in Budapest were forced from a train in desperate scenes symbolic of a European asylum system brought to breaking point.
In the Hungarian capital, lawmakers debated changes to entry laws that the right-wing government said would close the country to migrants as of 15 September, after nine months in which some 140,000 have been caught crossing from neighbouring Serbia en route to Western Europe.
Seeking to end a two-day standoff at the capital’s main railway station, police, who had barred entry to some 2,000 migrants for the past two days, suddenly stepped aside.
Crowds surged past, cramming onto trains many believed would take them to Austria, Germany and the end of a sometimes perilous journey from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Exhausted and confused, they clung to doors and squeezed their children through open carriage windows.
But some 35 kilometres west of Budapest, the train bound for the border town of Sopron stopped in Bicske, where Hungary has a migrant reception centre.
Riot police ordered them off, but many migrants resisted, laying on the railway line or fleeing. Some wrestled with police, trying to get back on board. One man threw himself on the tracks with his wife clutching their small child.
Those who refused to disembark banged on the windows of the train and shouted “No camp, no camp!” Police cleared one carriage, while five more stood in the station in the heat. They later declared the railway station an “operation zone” and ordered journalists to leave.
“We need water,” said a Syrian man who was still on the train and gave his name as Midu.
“Respect the humans in here; no respect for the humans. We want to go to Germany, not here,” he said in English.
The primary entry point for migrants – many of them Syrian refugees – travelling overland across the Balkans, Hungary is building a 3.5 metre-high fence along its 175 km frontier with Serbia.
Lawmakers 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 asylum requests would be processed and those rejected potentially expelled.
The amendments also introduce tougher punishment for those who cross illegally or damage the new fence, which has emerged as a potent symbol of the migrant crisis with its Cold War echoes in ex-Communist eastern Europe.
“We create just now in the Hungarian parliament a new package of regulations, we set up a physical barrier and all these together can provide a new situation in Hungary and in Europe from 15 September,” Orbán told reporters in Brussels.
“Now we have one week of preparation time.”
On Monday, Hungary (31 August) allowed migrants to board trains to western Europe, despite EU rules which bar travel by those without valid documents, but then called a halt on Tuesday (1 September).
Explaining Monday’s decision, the Hungarian government on Thursday cited Germany’s decision to relax rules for Syrian refugees, accepting their asylum claims regardless of where they entered the bloc. EU rules normally require them to register and remain in the first EU country they reach. Germany says it expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year.
Citing the chaos at Budapest’s main railway station, Orbán’s chief of staff, Janos Lazar, told a news conference: “This is because Germany … more than a week ago told Syrians that Germany awaited them, inviting them to the laid table.”
Indeed, Germany suspended the Dublin II rules which require refugees to be returned to the EU country where they registered first, and that it will accept all Syrian refugees.
In a tweet posted on 25 August, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), an office belonging to the German Ministry of Interior Affairs, confirmed that the Dublin procedure would no longer apply to Syrian nationals for the present time.
Before meeting Orbán today, Council President Donald Tusk said that accepting more refugees was an important gesture of real solidarity and that the “fair distribution of at least 100.000 refugees among the EU states is what we need today”.
Tusk also made reference to an article by Orbán in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in which the Hungarian Prime Minister said "Europe's own Christian values" were at stake from the influx of mainly Muslim migrants.
“Referring to Christianity in a public debate on migration must mean in the first place the readiness to show solidarity and sacrifice. For a Christian it shouldn't matter what race, religion and nationality the person in need represents”, Tusk stated.