Thousands of exhausted refugees have streamed into Austria after being bussed to the border by the Hungarian government, which gave up trying to stop them under pressure from the sheer numbers reaching its frontiers.
About 4,000 refugees have arrived in Austria so far, the country’s interior ministry said, and the number is expected to reach 10,000 throughout Saturday.
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Rain-soaked refugees, many of them from Syria, were whisked by train and shuttle bus to Vienna, where many said they were resolved to continue on to Germany.
German police later said the first 450 of up to 10,000 refugees expected on Saturday had arrived on a special train in Munich from Austria.
After days of confrontation and chaos, Hungary’s right-wing government deployed dozens of buses to take refugees from Budapest and pick up over 1,000 who had set off doggedly by foot on Friday down the main highway to Vienna.
Austria said it had agreed with Germany that it would allow the refugees access, waiving the rules of an asylum system brought to breaking point by Europe’s worst refugee crisis in decades.
Wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags against the rain, long lines of weary refugees, many carrying small, sleeping children, climbed off buses on the Hungarian side of the border and walked into Austria, receiving fruit and water from aid workers. Waiting Austrians held signs that read, “Refugees welcome”.
“Because of today’s emergency situation on the Hungarian border, Austria and Germany agree in this case to a continuation of the refugees’ journey into their countries,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said on his Facebook page.
For days, Hungary has cancelled all trains going west to Austria and Germany, saying it is obliged under EU rules to register all asylum seekers, who should remain there until their requests are processed.
Many refugees refused, determined to get to the richer countries of northern and Western Europe, mainly Germany.
“The government has not commented on why they changed their mind over the issue yet,” Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from the highway leading to the Hungarian-Austrian border, said on Budapest’s decision to let refugees go to Austria.
Traffic built up on the highway as cars crossing the border were being searched as a result of measures taken after dozens of refugees were found dead on a truck last week.
Meanwhile, European foreign ministers and officials gathered in Luxembourg on Saturday to discuss the massive influx of migrants and refugees in countries across Europe.
More than 140,000 people have been recorded entering Hungary so far this year through the EU’s external border with Serbia, where Hungary’s government is building an 3.5 metres high wall. Countless others may have entered without registering.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, one of Europe’s most outspoken critics of mass immigration, took to the airwaves to issue sharp warnings that Europeans could become a minority on their own continent.