Chaos in Hungary as figures show gravity of migrant crisis

1st September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Hungarian police blocked hundreds of migrants from boarding trains to western Europe from Budapest's main rail station Tuesday, as figures showed more than 350,000 have risked their lives to cross the Mediterranean this year.

As hundreds of police, some in riot gear, moved people out of Keleti station, statistics from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed the scale of the crisis in Europe which is facing the biggest movement of people since World War II.

IOM figures show over 234,770 migrants have landed in Greece alone this year -- more than the entire Europe-wide figure for 2014 which was 219,000.

At least 2,600 died on the journey, drowning or suffocating in dangerous or unseaworthy boats, it said.

Another 114,276 made it to Italy, while most of the others were split between Spain and Malta.

In a separate statement, the UN children's agency (UNICEF) said 80 percent of those arriving in Macedonia, a major transit point on the route to western Europe, were refugees from the bloody civil war in Syria.

A third of them were women and children, and one in every eight women was pregnant, the agency said, indicating that an estimated 100,000 people had passed through the country since June.

Stories of refugees dying in horrific conditions inside rickety boats or crammed into lorries have become an almost weekly occurrence, with European Council President Donald Tusk saying Tuesday the bloc's main priority was "preventing migrants from losing their lives" en route to safety.

But the crisis is rapidly spreading across the continent, with the EU's border control procedures thrown into chaos as governments struggle to tackle the growing wave of humanity seeking shelter in the 28-member bloc.

- 'Germany, Germany!' -

Meanwhile, around two hundred refugees were locked in a standoff with police outside Budapest's Keleti station after they were prevented from travelling to western Europe, an AFP correspondent said.

"Germany! Germany! We want to leave!" chanted the crowd, with some holding their babies in the air.

The ban was enforced just 24 hours after police had unexpectedly allowed people stuck for days in makeshift refugee camps to leave the Hungarian capital, with hundreds surging onto trains bound for Germany and Austria, despite many not having EU visas.

The sudden movement of people saw the highest number of migrants entering Austria in a single day this year, with police saying 3,650 arriving in Vienna by train on Monday.

Many of the migrants continued on to Germany, which last week eased asylum restrictions for Syrian refugees.

German police said a record 2,200 asylum-seekers had turned up in Bavaria by Tuesday morning.

An unprecedented number of migrants have also arrived in Belgium in recent weeks, with a makeshift camp springing up in Brussels near the the main refugee processing centre, where up to 1,000 were waiting to apply for asylum on Monday.

Sweden also said on Tuesday that the number of weekly asylum requests was nearing historic levels. Of the 3,610 people who filed for asylum last week, nearly half were Syrians - and close to a quarter were unaccompanied minors.

The record influx of refugees and migrants is Europe's "greatest challenge" for the coming years, Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy declared on Tuesday during talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

- 'Scandalous' -

The migrants' plight was brought sharply into focus last week after 71 people, including four children, were found dead in an abandoned truck on an Austrian motorway near the Hungarian border.

So far, police in Hungary and Bulgaria have arrested seven people in connection with the truck tragedy, among them four Bulgarians and one Afghan. The nationalities of the other two were not known.

The grim discovery led to a security crackdown in Austria with huge tailbacks forming along the border on Monday and Tuesday, as officers inspected vehicles in search of people-smugglers and migrants.

The escalating situation has divided the member bloc ahead of emergency talks on September 14.

At the heart of the crisis lies the question over how to distribute the migrants across the EU and help relieve pressure on so-called "frontline" nations where migrants arrive by sea or land.

Much-flouted EU rules, known as the Dublin regulation, stipulate that refugees should be processed in the first country they reach.

But bloc member Hungary, where 50,000 migrants arrived in August, has said it cannot host so many newcomers, and has built a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia to halt the influx.

France's top diplomat has slammed the barrier as "scandalous", while Austria accused Hungary of being "sloppy" in its application of the Dublin rules, prompting a diplomatic spat with Budapest.

On Tuesday, the Hungarian government summoned the ambassadors of both countries to explain the remarks.

As the diplomatic wrangling continued, some 20,000 people took to the streets of Vienna late Monday in a show of support for the migrants, as government officials attended a church service for the 71 refugees found dead last week.

In a separate development, the EU's Frontex border agency said that a brisk trade in false Syrian passports had emerged, predominantly in Turkey.

"They know Syrians get the right to asylum in the European Union," Fabrice Leggeri told French radio station Europe 1.

"People who use fake Syrian passports often speak Arabic. They may come from North Africa or the Middle East but they have the profile of economic migrants," he said.


© 2015 AFP

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