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Hungary refugees in mass walk to Austrian border

A mass of desperate refugees stranded at Budapest’s main rail station for days set off on foot for the Austrian border Friday, despite mounting efforts by Hungary to crack down on a deepening crisis that is straining Europe’s unity.

With tensions growing across a divided EU, the human cost was underlined as the father of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose drowning on the crossing to Europe 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 direct 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 put at more than 1,000, including people in wheelchairs and on crutches, set off determined to get to the Austrian border some 175 kilometres (110 miles) away.

“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.

Some flashed victory signs while others carried pictures of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently easing asylum rules for Syrians, as police looked on without intervening.

Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban sparked anger by saying his country did not want more Muslim migrants and warned that Europe would lose its Christian identity, as well as lashing out at Germany for failing to deal with the crisis.

– Aylan buried in Syria –

Hungarian lawmakers meanwhile 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 meanwhile warned the EU faced a “defining moment” and called for the mandatory resettlement of 200,000 refugees by EU states.

Some 350,00 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, with 2,600 dying when ricketty 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,” the devastated father told mourners, after personally carrying his sons’ bodies to Kobane’s Martyrs’ Cemetery, where around 100 people attended the ceremony.

The family were driven out of Kobane in June after fierce fighting between Kurdish militants and Islamic State militants.

There was a 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.

Angry protesters booed European Commission’s vice-president Frans Timmermans and EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Friday when they visited the Greek island of Kos on Friday.

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.

– Britain to take thousands more –

Under-fire British Prime Minister David Cameron, accused of not doing enough to share the burden, said he would set out plans next week to take “thousands more” refugees.

However he insisted they would be refugees from camps on the border with Syria and not those already in other EU member states. To do that, would just encourage more people to make the perilous journey to Europe, he said.

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.

“The Austrian government and the EU stand by idly,” organisers of the citizen initiative wrote on their Facebook page.

Charities across Europe meanwhile reported a surge in donations from people shocked by the heart-rending images.

“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 Organisation for Migration said Friday.