Hungary closes Budapest train station to thwart migrants

By bne IntelliNews September 1, 2015

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Some 2,000 refugees protested on September 1 after Hungarian police closed Budapest's Keleti train station to those without documents, preventing them from boarding trains leaving for Austria and Germany.

The closure of the station marks another erratic policy change from the Hungarian government. It has faced severe criticism from fellow European Union states for both building a razor wire fence on the country's southern border, while at the same time looking the other way as asylum seekers headed north and west. 

At Keleti, angry demonstrators urged the authorities to let them in, chanting “Germany, Germany”, MTI reported. The shuttering of the major terminal came a day after police apparently allowed hundreds of migrants stuck for days at the city’s train stations to leave the Hungarian capital on trains bound for Germany and Austria, despite many not having EU visas.

That resulted in the highest number of migrants entering Austria in a single day this year, with 3,650 arriving in Vienna by train on August 31. Budapest had earlier criticised German and Austrian hints that they would not seek to weed out those that had arrived via Hungary from other migrants, arguing that this would encourage migration through Hungary.

Under EU rules, aslyum seekers should be sent back to the first EU country they reached. "Whoever comes to Hungary must get registered there and go through the asylum procedure there," a German Interior Ministry spokesman said, according to Reuters.

The same day, traffic on Hungary’s main route to western Europe also stalled, after Austria introduced partial border controls following the horrifying discovery of more than 70 dead refugees in a truck driven across the border last week. Austria rejected any suggestion that the checks violated the Schengen treaty.

A record number of migrants crossed Hungary's borders in recent months, with the country now serving as a frontline entry point to the EU’s passport-free zone. While the likes of France and Germany are calling for greater efforts to help refugees fleeing wars and oppression in Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea, Hungary along with its Central European peers is resisting. 

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann criticised Hungary's new fence on its border with Serbia late on August 31, insisting physical obstacles will not halt people smuggling, and that only a political solution will be effective. He also suggested Hungary is doing nothing to resolve the crisis, and is allowing migrants to travel through its territory to other states.

As with similar comments from French officials earlier this month, Hungary reacted with fury, and summoned the Austrian ambassador on September 1. Budapest claimed it is "among the few who are actually taking genuine measures”.

"[We] reject all statements which are based on lies and are capable of provoking anger and aggressive situations” such as the one that the Austrian chancellor made, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said in comments published on the government's web portal. 

As well as building the fence, Hungary has introduced new legislation making illegal border crossing punishable by a prison term. It also threatened in June that it would dispense with the "Dublin" accord that says asylum seekers must return to their original point of entry to the EU, although it appeared to backtrack quickly under huge international pressure.

The throngs of refugees in Hungary made it plainer than ever on September 1 that they have no desire to make their lives in Hungary. They held signs saying "Hungary - no" as they chanted the name of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government has agreed to take in 80,000 asylum seekers over this year and next under the EU's plan to redistribute the throngs arriving in southern Europe. Hungary has said it won't accept any quota. 

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