Thousands of refugees in limbo at Budapest rail station

Volunteers struggle to provide aid to refugees, who have been blocked from departing on trains to other EU countries.

Thousands of refugees are stranded outside Budapest’s main international railway station a day after Hungarian authorities closed it to them, sticking by the European Union’s rules which prevent refugees from leaving for Germany and other countries.

Early on Wednesday, the AP news agency reported the number of refugees stranded outside the Keleti station had swollen to 3,000 as citizen patrols were brought in to assist police to keep order.

Volunteer groups usually accustomed to providing food, clothing and medical assistance to a few hundred migrants at a time were struggling with large numbers of people crammed outside the station’s main entrance.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people demanding to travel to Germany faced off with police outside the station, as new figures highlighted the unprecedented scale of Europe’s refugee crisis.

More than 350,000 people, many from war-torn Syria, have made the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean so far this year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

Police cleared and briefly closed the station late on Tuesday, after thousands of refugees boarded trains for Germany and Austria on Monday, but later re-opened it to tourists and residents.

As night fell, hundreds of mainly Syrian refugees were blocked from the station entrance by a police line, chanting: “Germany, Germany,” and “Hungary, let us go.”

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Some held improvised placards from cardboard boxes calling for the UN to step in, while a protester hoisted on another’s shoulders held up a Germany football shirt to cheers.

Once again, the issue of free movement in Europe and the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War is playing out in front of people in a capital city

by Andrew Simmons, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Budapest

“The demonstrations – vocal not aggressive – carried on right through the day,” Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from the station, said on Tuesday.

“But perhaps the dilemma the refugees are in is conveyed more by the sight of exhausted families who had bought their tickets only to be turned away. They settled in the shade wherever they could find it, refusing to move,” he said.

The police continued to hold back, though, and by midnight the tension had eased, with most of the refugees retreating to a nearby makeshift shelter to sleep, many vowing to return to the station entrance in the morning.

Hungarian railway authorities said earlier that they would allow “only those in possession of the appropriate travel documents”, and – if necessary – a visa to board trains travelling to Western Europe.

In a statement posted on their website, the Hungarian police said they would “continue to carry out [their] duties in accordance with the Schengen rules on border control”.

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

This saw the highest number of refugees entering Austria in a single day this year, with police saying 3,650 arrived in Vienna by train on Monday.

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

German police said a record 3,500 asylum seekers had turned up in Bavaria on Tuesday. Sweden also said the number of asylum requests there were nearing historic levels.

Also late on Tuesday, cross-channel rail services were suspended between England and France, after refugees made their way onto the Eurostar service’s tracks.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, David Miliband, the former Foreign secretary of the United Kingdom said there had been a political and diplomatic failure in Europe to help the refugees.

“There’s been a specific European failure over the past two or three years, European leaders have been focused on the Greek euro crisis and the Ukraine crisis with Russia, and frankly their eye has not been on this ball,” Miliband said.

“European countries are hoping that Greece and Italy would deal with this on their own…you’ve seen an outbreak of European leadership from Germany, but frankly they’re putting the rest of Europe to shame.”

Record influx

The latest flashpoint in Hungary, one of several recent standoffs at borders and transport hubs across the continent, came as the IOM published new figures revealing the scale of Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

Refugees in Hungary crowd onto train to Vienna

“Once again, the issue of free movement in Europe and the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War is playing out in front of people in a capital city,” Simmons said.

Out of the 350,000 arrivals by sea so far this year, 234,770 alone were in Greece, the figures showed.

That figure by itself is more than the entire European total for all of 2014.

At least 2,600 died trying to reach Europe, either by drowning or suffocating in packed or unseaworthy boats, the agency said.

Stories of refugees dying in horrific conditions crammed inside vans and trucks have piled pressure on the EU, which has scheduled emergency talks for September 14.

The influx is Europe’s “greatest challenge”, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Tuesday during talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Within the EU, the crisis has stoked friction over burden-sharing and help for “front line” nations where the refugees arrive by sea or land, and about sharing the numbers of refugees who are granted asylum.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies