Austria to end 'open border' emergency measures

SZEGED, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 06: Hundreds of miigrants and refugees continue to cross the border from Serbia into Hungary along the railway tracks close to the village of Roszke on September 6, 2015 in Szeged, Hungary.
Christopher Furlong | Getty Images
SZEGED, HUNGARY - SEPTEMBER 06: Hundreds of miigrants and refugees continue to cross the border from Serbia into Hungary along the railway tracks close to the village of Roszke on September 6, 2015 in Szeged, Hungary.

Austria said on Sunday it planned to end emergency measures that have allowed thousands of refugees stranded in Hungary into Austria and Germany since Saturday morning.

Austria had suspended its random border checks after photographs of a Syrian toddler lying dead on a Turkish beach showed Europeans the horror faced by those desperate enough to travel illegally into the heart of Europe, which is deeply divided over how to cope.

After 71 people suffocated in the back of a truck abandoned on an Austrian highway en route from Hungary, and as thousands headed from Budapest towards Austria on foot, Vienna had agreed with Germany to waive rules requiring refugees to register an asylum claim in the first EU country they reach.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said that decision was being revised following "intensive talks" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and a telephone call with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, bitterly opposed to the waiver.

"We have always said this is an emergency situation in which we must act quickly and humanely. We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation," Faymann said. "Now we have to move step-by-step away from emergency measures towards normality, in conformity with the law and dignity."

Hungary laid on over 100 buses to the border on Saturday night after Austria said it had agreed the emergency measures, to the relief of thousands of migrants and refugees stranded in Budapest after travelling through the Balkans and Greece, many of them fleeing civil war in Syria.

Others set off from the station to make the 170 km (110 mile) journey on foot. The platforms filled up again on Sunday.

Germany has said it expects to receive 800,000 refugees and migrants this year, and urged other EU members to open their doors.

'It's getting tight'

At the station in Munich, state capital of Bavaria, a few dozen well-wishers turned up to cheer the new arrivals. Those who stopped to speak told of weeks of arduous travel by land and sea. Some seemed intimidated by the welcoming applause.

Almost 11,000 migrants arrived in the city on Sunday, following 6,800 on Saturday, and the president of the government of Upper Bavaria, Christoph Hillenbrand, said Munich was running out of capacity.

Authorities there were using a disused car showroom and a railway logistics centre as makeshift camps, and were adding a further 1,000 beds to 2,300 already set up at the city's international trade fair ground. About 4,000 people were sent to other German states.

"It's getting tight," Hillenbrand told reporters at the train station.

Merkel's decision to allow the influx has caused a rift in her conservative bloc, with her Bavarian allies saying she had pushed ahead without consulting the federal state administrations dealing with the problem on the ground.

The political rift is greater across Europe, with Hungary's Orban accusing Berlin of encouraging the influx.

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"As long as Austria and Germany don't say clearly that they won't take in any more migrants, several million new immigrants will come to Europe," he told Austrian broadcaster ORF.

Orban has portrayed the crisis as a defence of Europe's prosperity, identity and "Christian values" against a tide of mainly Muslim migrants. French far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused Germany of looking to lower wages and hire "slaves".

Hungary, the main entry point for migrants into Europe's borderless Schengen zone, plans to seal its southern frontier with a new, high fence by Sept. 15.

Some EU states say the focus should be on tackling the violence in the Middle East that has caused so many to flee.

British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to hold a vote in parliament in early October to allow it to join air strikes by a U.S.-led coalition on Islamic State in Syria, London's Sunday Times said, and Le Monde reported that France was also considering joining.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Saturday failed to agree on any practical steps.

"When rich Europe argues and tears itself apart over whether to accept 1,000, 10,000, 42,000 or 100,000 refugees, when Turkey already has 2 million, it is clear that we have a problem of perspective and identity," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.


In Budapest's Keleti station, migrants and refugees followed handwritten signs in Arabic directing them to trains to Hegyeshalom on the Austrian border, and volunteers handed out food and clothing.

On the frontier, long lines of people, many wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags and carrying sleeping children, got off buses on the Hungarian side and walked across into Austria.

"We're happy. We'll go to Germany," said a Syrian who gave his name as Mohammed.

But on Hungary's border with Serbia, there were reports that people had spent the night in the rain without food or shelter.

"While Europe rejoiced in happy images from Austria and Germany yesterday, refugees crossing into Hungary right now see a very different picture: riot police and a cold hard ground to sleep on," Amnesty International researcher Barbora Cernusakova said in a statement.

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The numbers in Europe are small compared to the almost 4 million refugees in Syria's neighbours Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, and Pope Francis called for every European church parish and religious community to take in one migrant family each.

But a poll in the French newspaper Aujourd'hui en France showed 55 percent of French people opposed to softening rules on granting refugee status.

European leaders are due to expand their list of "safe" countries to which migrants looking for a better life but not in fear of life and limb can be returned.

Dangerous crossing

Meanwhile the flow of people risking the dangerous journey on flimsy boats across the Mediterranean shows no sign of abating, as they flee the four-year-old civil war in Syria that has killed about 250,000 civilians, and wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa.

On the Greek island of Lesbos, about 500 Afghans protesting at lengthy identification procedures scuffled with police. A ferry took 1,744 migrants and refugees to Athens from Lesbos on Sunday and another one with 2,500 on board was expected later in the day, the coastguard said.

A record 50,000 people hit Greek shores in July alone, and were ferried from islands unable to cope to the mainland. There, a government in financial crisis is keen to dispatch them into Macedonia, from where they enter Serbia and then Hungary.

More than 2,000 have died at sea in the Mediterranean so far this year. The Cypriot coastguard picked up 114 Syrian refugees on Sunday who were adrift in a fishing boat.