Hundreds of migrants arrive in Vienna, next stop Germany
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Hundreds of refugees and migrants arriving from Hungary flooded into Vienna's western railway station on Monday and ran towards the next trains heading for Germany, a Reuters reporter said.
Looking happy and relieved, the migrants chanted "Germany, Germany" as volunteers handed out fruit and water bottles. Police looked on, with one officer overheard saying to another: "Where are they all going? And what are we meant to be doing?"
In the latest twist in a humanitarian and political crisis that is now testing the survival of both Europe's open-border regime and its asylum rules, Hungary allowed the migrants, many of them fleeing Syria's civil war, to cram into at least four trains leaving Budapest for Austria or Germany.
Police had previously prevented them from leaving, even if they had valid train tickets and papers, because they did not have the required visa to move around the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone.
However, with few police or border officials available, the trains eventually left with the refugees and migrants onboard.
Under current EU regulations, known as the Dublin Provision, asylum-seekers must remain in the first European country they enter while their application is processed. Those who risk travelling on to other member states face deportation back to their original EU point of entry.
Khalil, an English teacher from Kobani in Syria, was one of those who boarded a train with his family.
"Thank God nobody asked for a passport ... No police, no problem," said Khalil, at the Vienna station where he waited with his wife and sick baby daughter.
He described how he and his family had been able to buy train tickets in Budapest and were headed for Hamburg, Germany.
"As for Germany, Syrians call (Chancellor Angela) Merkel 'Mama Merkel', he added, referring to the German leader's relatively compassionate response so far to the migrant crisis.
Most of the migrants have no intention to stay in Hungary, even those who register there, but aim to reach richer western European countries.
Austrian authorities have stopped hundreds of refugees and arrested five traffickers as part of a clampdown along a main motorway from Hungary against the criminal gangs exploiting the human misery following last week's gruesome discovery of 71 dead migrants in an abandoned truck near the Hungarian border.
A senior official at Austria's Interior Ministry, Konrad Kogler, denied on Monday that the clampdown, which includes increased check points on the eastern borders, amounted to a violation of the Schengen accord on free movement.
Hungary plans to tighten laws on migration and also plans to set up holding camps near the Serbian border. The government said it may use the army to help protect borders.
Hungary would also consider expelling migrants violating the new rules.
Over the past three days, Hungarian police said they had caught 8,792 migrants crossing into the country, most of them from Serbia.
The number of refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe has surpassed 300,000 this year, up from 219,000 in the whole of 2014, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR.
Luxembourg, which currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, has called an emergency meeting of the bloc’s 28 member states for September 14 to discuss the crisis.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)
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