Europe's growing refugee and migration crisis on show in Hungary
UNHCR, 04 Sep 2015
BUDAPEST, Sept 4 (UNHCR) – An angry confrontation between police and refugees on a blocked train just outside Budapest; a makeshift camp of stranded Syrians, Afghans and others at the capital's main railway station; more than 2,000 refugees crossing into the country from Serbia each day – the contours of Europe's refugee and migration crisis are growing and shifting.
The train standoff was born of confusion. At the main train station authorities announced a cancellation of all trains to Western Europe in the morning. Then, strangely, a train prepared to depart. Hundreds of refugees stormed it. But 40 kilometres outside the capital the train stopped and police tried to move the refugees into a makeshift reception centre at Bicske.
The refugees refused to leave. They refused food and water. They were, they said, on strike, and demanded to be allowed to leave the country. The confrontation dragged into the night and the morning.
"If people have been misled about where the trains are going that would be a terrible thing," said UNHCR Representative Monsterrat Feixas Vihé.
"Information has been one of the main problems so far. They need to know, they deserve to know what is in store for them, where they are being sent to make the right decision."
The concourse in front of the main Keleti train station in Budapest resembles a sad, makeshift campsite. More than 2,000 people slept there overnight, a few in small tents, some with blankets and air mattresses, many on the cement floor covered in nothing but their clothes.
"I have no dignity here," said Mohammad, 44. He left his wife and twin daughters in Homs, Syria, a month ago, thinking to find work and a safe haven for his family in Europe. His wife tried for several months to dissuade him. He overruled her.
"Now I regret I came here when I see this," he says, gesturing to the crowd of refugees, most of them Syrian, milling before the imposing entrance to the station. Mohammad has been here for eight days.
Abd Alhadi said police picked him up two days ago and took him to a train, along with two dozens other refugees.
"We didn't know where they were taking us. But we jumped off at a station and got back here. I wanted to be with my two brothers."
The three lived in Damascus next to the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp. It was shelled daily for years. Finally their house was hit and destroyed as well.
"We lived well in Syria but now it is always war. When I went out, my mother never knew if I would come back. Before, our children played with toy cars. Now they want toy guns. All they see are Kalashnikovs," he says.
"We spent $12,000 for three persons to get here – smugglers, boats. Now we have only a little over $1,000. We just want to live in peace in Europe with our families."
In front of the station adults and children hold up makeshift placards for the hordes of cameras. "I want to go to Germany"; "To be a refugee is not a crime"; "I am prisoner and I miss my family in Germany". Almost all the signs are in English.
As dusk descends on the city, Syrians gather on the steps of the station and chant: "We want to go, we want to go." But no one is going; all the trains for Western Europe have been cancelled until further notice, a sign says in the station, "in the interests of safety of the railway transport".
Like Mohammad the people here receive little aid. He is reduced to spending what he calls his emergency money. He has lost his bag, even his shirt on his travels. A volunteer group, Migration Aid, hands out donated clothes, water and food.
The Hungarian government says it is setting up what it calls a 'temporary social zone' not far from the station and has asked for technical help and some housing units from UNHCR. But that camp will not be functioning for at least another 10 days.
At the border with Serbia the flow of refugees, despite a wire fence erected by the Hungarian authorities, is unceasing. Just over 2,000 people a day manage to sneak into the country from the southern neighbour.
The refugees apprehended by the police are taken to reception centres. They're given food and water and also registered and fingerprinted. But many avoid detection and manage to get to Budapest by bus or train.
But for the moment Budapest is a dead end in front of a cavernous train station.
By Don Murray, Hungary