Hungary border chaos continues as travellers trapped in limbo

Budapest (AFP) –


Travel chaos continued Thursday at Hungary's borders which were suddenly closed Monday in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with diplomats urging Budapest to let trapped citizens enter the country.

With just a few hours' notice, all of Hungary's borders were officially shut to non-nationals from Monday midnight, an emergency measure to protect the health of Hungarian citizens, according to Budapest.

But the move has caused long tailbacks of freight and passenger traffic at road borders, as well as uncertainty at airports where travellers were stuck despite having Hungarian registration documents.

Several dozen foreigners resident in Hungary were kept together in a small room at Budapest airport Thursday waiting to be let in, reported one of the group, Shaun Walker, the Guardian newspaper's Central and Eastern Europe correspondent.

Around 60 people were being held in "a corona hellbox" for over nine hours with only the floor to sleep on, he wrote in a Twitter post.

"European embassies got verbal assurances that foreigners who could prove they live and work in Hungary would be allowed in," he added.

According to a government decree no foreigners apart from those with immediate Hungarian family members can enter Hungary after Monday.

However, the rules seemed to be being applied arbitrarily in at least some cases, with several Budapest-based foreign nationals telling AFP that they were allowed to enter if they had official Hungarian documents.

"There has been a confusion about the rules," said the UK ambassador in a Facebook video message earlier this week.

"We are encouraging the (Hungarian) government to allow all UK residents of Hungary to re-enter the country," said a UK embassy statement Thursday.

Another EU ambassador told AFP on condition of anonymity that "there seems to be no clarity on who can enter or not".

"We hope that the general rule will be respected and that citizens with a registration permit according to EU regulations can enter their country to return to their work and their homes," said the ambassador.

The government has not responded to several requests by AFP since Monday for clarification of the rules.

Since Monday, tailbacks from the Hungarian border-crossings have stretched back several dozens of kilometres into Austria and Slovakia.

After pressure from neighbouring countries Budapest began Tuesday allowing Romanian and Bulgarian citizens, many returning from workplaces in western Europe, to travel home through Hungary during the night-time.

The so-called "humanitarian corridors" allow convoys of cars with special vignettes to travel on designated routes with assigned stopping points between 9pm (0800 GMT) and 5am local time.

"The corridors could be opened during the day-time too if the situation requires it," said cabinet office minister Gergely Gulyas.

Also on Thursday, neighbouring Austria announced that it was extending its emergency border controls to its frontiers with Hungary and Slovenia.

Similar conrols had already been put up on the country's borders with Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.