Via My Way News…
Hungary stunned migrants and European partners Tuesday by blocking asylum-seekers from its westbound trains, a move that raised new challenges for the EU’s passport-free travel zone and could drive many into the reckless hands of cross-border smugglers.
Hungary’s right-wing nationalist government defended its U-turn — just days after it started permitting migrants on the trains without any coherent immigration controls at all — as necessary to send a get-tough signal. Cabinet ministers told lawmakers that the nation, struggling to cope with more than 150,000 arrivals this year, was determined to seal its borders to unwelcome travelers from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Human rights activists criticized the action as futile and reckless, given that eastern European gangs have mobilized fleets of vehicles for illegally transporting migrants to Austria, Germany and elsewhere — but at steep prices and in often dangerous conditions. They warned that blocking public transportation would increase risks of a repeat of last week’s tragedy when the bodies of 71 people, apparently suffocated, were found in the back of an abandoned truck near Vienna, Austria.
“There is no logic behind what Hungary is doing: Yesterday they let migrants use the trains, and today they do not,” Gabor Gyulai, refugee program coordinator for a Budapest-based rights group called the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, told The Associated Press. “By not allowing them to move onward into Europe in a regular manner by buying a ticket, it’s a certainty that this new policy will push them into the hands of smugglers. It is a terrible outcome.”
Confusion reigned at Budapest’s central Keleti train station as migrants arrived with tickets in hand, often costing 200 euros ($225) each or more, intending to take the morning service to Vienna and the southern German city of Munich. Barring their way were lines of maroon-capped Hungarian police, some of them in body armor.
Police initially suspended all services at Keleti and blocked its grand main entrance. Within hours, non-migrant passengers were allowed through a side entrance after showing passports, visas or other national IDs, while Hungarian speakers were waved through.
Hungarian State Railways announced it would not sell tickets to customers without proper ID and, where required, visas. It said customers could buy tickets only for themselves unless they showed valid IDs and visas for every passenger.
The thwarted migrants faced another night near the station, which has become a concrete campsite as tens of thousands surged north this summer from non-EU member Serbia. Most began their journey weeks ago from Turkish refugee camps bordering the civil war in Syria and hope to reach Germany, which has offered asylum to war refugees and expects to receive a staggering 800,000 migrants this year alone.
Outside the station, more than 300 people stood, many shouting protest slogans or waved tickets, hoping that police might let them through. A few made makeshift signs pleading for help from the EU or United Nations. One man drew on a pizza box a picture of a moving train, a crying child and the plaintive message “Germany!”
In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that the EU’s longstanding commitment to passport-free travel, observed by all members except island nations Britain and Ireland, was under threat by the refusal of many nations in the bloc to share the load from the unprecedented wave of asylum-seekers.
She defended Germany’s commitment to shelter war refugees, particularly from Syria, and said other nations needed to do so. The willingness to take more migrants and assess them for refugee status “should be the same in every European country,” she said.
But Hungary’s leaders vowed, somehow, to stop unwanted migrants from crossing their country. Cabinet ministers said a bill being debated this week in Parliament would authorize the deployment of more than 3,000 troops along the Serbian frontier, the creation of jail-style, fast-track migrant centers able to reject and deport migrants back to Serbia, and other measures intended to end Hungary’s previous status as an open back door into the EU.
Janos Lazar, chief of staff to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, blamed Germany and what he called other “left-wing governments” in Europe for encouraging the rush of migrants. “The defense of our borders is important, not opening the borders,” he said.
Orban faces tough questions Thursday in Brussels by EU leaders at a summit on the crisis. Many other nations, including entry points Greece and Italy, also face pressure to do more to improve migrants’ support and safety.