Hungary late Friday laid on buses to ferry hundreds of desperate refugees who had set off on foot for the Austrian border after being stranded for days in Budapest’s main railway station.
With tensions growing across a divided EU, the human cost of the refugee crisis was underlined as the father of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose drowning shocked the world, buried his family in their war-torn hometown.
Germany urged an end to “recriminations” as Britain said it would take in thousands more Syrian refugees — but only directly from camps, not those already in overstretched Hungary, Greece and Italy who are demanding their EU partners do more to help.
Hungary has become the newest flashpoint as thousands of migrants try to get to Western Europe, particularly Germany, which has said it will no longer deport Syrian refugees and will take in 800,000 people this year.
In the Hungarian capital, a crowd of migrants estimated by police at 2,500, including people in wheelchairs and on crutches, set off determined to get to the Austrian border some 175 kilometres (110 miles) away.
On Friday evening, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief-of-staff Janos Lazar said Hungary would lay on around 100 buses to take migrants to the Austrian border if they wanted.
“The top priority is that Hungary’s transport should not be crippled,” said Lazar.
Some flashed victory signs as they walked along the M1 motorway leading to Austria while others carried pictures of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently easing asylum rules for Syrians, as police looked on without intervening.
“We are very happy that something is happening at last. The next stop is Austria. The children are very tired, Hungary is very bad, we have to go somehow,” 23-year-old Osama from Syria told AFP.
Earlier in the day, about 300 people busted through a fence at a Hungarian refugee camp and clashed with police, while another 300 escaped from a collection point for migrants intercepted at the border.
Meanwhile in the town of Bicske, 40 kilometres west of Budapest and home to one of Hungary’s main refugee camps, up to 350 migrants escaped from a train guarded by police, and headed westward along the tracks.
A 51-year-old Pakistani among them died after he was found lying close to the railway track, a police spokesman said. The cause of death was not immediately clear.
Orban sparked anger by saying his country did not want more Muslim migrants and warned that Europe would lose its Christian identity.
– Tough Hungarian measures –
Hungarian lawmakers also passed tough new anti-immigration measures, including criminalising illegal border crossing and vandalism to a razor-wire fence erected along the border with Serbia.
Some 50,000 migrants arrived in Hungary last month via the western Balkans, with a record 3,300 on Thursday, according to UN figures.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia on Friday separately proposed creating a rail corridor for Syrian refugees linking Hungary and Germany.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned the EU faced a “defining moment” and called for the mandatory resettlement of 200,000 refugees by EU states.
Some 350,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, with 2,600 dying when rickety boats supplied by ruthless people smugglers sank.
Symbolising the human tragedy at the heart of the crisis, Aylan’s father Abdullah Kurdi returned Friday to the Syrian border town of Kobane to lay his son to rest along with Aylan’s brother and mother, who also died.
“I will have to pay the price for this the rest of my life,” he told mourners, after carrying his sons’ bodies to Kobane’s Martyrs’ Cemetery.
The family were driven out of Kobane in June after fierce fighting between Kurdish militants and Islamic State militants.
There was global outrage after photos showed the little boy’s body lying in the surf of a Turkish resort, washed up after the boat taking the family to Greece sank.
EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss the crisis ahead of a “State of the Union” address next week by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, when he will lay out new measures which could well exacerbate EU differences.
Juncker has proposed mandatory quotas for resettling 160,000 refugees, after an earlier plan for 40,000 met stiff opposition, notably from Hungary, and attracted offers of places for only 32,000.
Germany and France back quotas, but Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia together rejected any quota systems in a statement on Friday.
– Surge in donations –
If some governments are wary, many ordinary Europeans were taking the initiative and providing help for the migrants as well they could.
In Austria, some 2,200 people joined a social media campaign to organise a convoy of private cars and vans on Sunday to help pick up hundreds of the migrants in Hungary, while hundreds rallied in Madrid and Barcelona urging Spain’s leaders to do more to help refugees.
Charities across Europe meanwhile reported a surge in donations from people shocked by the heart-rending images — UNICEF said donations were up 105 percent.
“There is an enormous response from the public, the tide of indifference is shifting,” Christian Peregrin, spokesman for the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station, told AFP.
At least 30 more migrants were feared to have drowned off Libya after their dinghy began to sink, the International Organization for Migration said Friday.