Budapest train station opens for limited travel, migrants rush in

Updated 4:29 AM EDT, Thu September 3, 2015
02:48 - Source: CNN
We just wanted a future: Migrants feel stuck in Budapest

Story highlights

NEW: A Syrian refugee named Houriye: "I beg you to save us"

NEW: European Union's foreign policy chief urges for "united" action on the refugee crisis

Report: At least 12 people packed onto migrant boats have drowned off Turkey

"We have been here five days. No food, no sleep -- no place to sleep, no anything," a Syrian refugee says

CNN —  

[Breaking news update, posted at 3:28 a.m.]

Migrants streamed into Budapest’s Keleti train station on Thursday, breaking a deadlock with authorities outside. Trains are running, but the borders with Austria and Slovakia are closed, a rail official said, limiting where the refugees can travel.

[Previous story, posted at 6:07 p.m.]

[CNN] – A tiny step in dealing with Europe’s deadly and massive migrant crisis was attempted Wednesday as Italy, Germany and France sought a united response to the worsening plight of millions of refugees.

The nations’ respective foreign ministers presented the European Union with a joint document calling for a revision of asylum rules and a fairer distribution of refugees, according to the Italian Foreign Ministry.

The effort comes as the photo of a toddler’s lifeless body – one of 12 people who drowned off Turkey and washed up on a beach – has come to symbolize the gravity of the crisis.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, urged “united” action and said the issue will be part of the next EU foreign ministers meeting on Friday and Saturday. The EU Commission was meeting to prepare new proposals.

Another batch of refugees, meanwhile, arrives in Munich with almost every train that pulls into the station.

Tired, hungry and weak from the heat, they speak of a harrowing journey – and the joy of escaping the bloody chaos in their nations.

But in Budapest, the scene is more desperate.

Refugees in the Hungarian capital held up scraps of paper: “Help Syrians,” they read. “Babies are tired.”

Still, almost anything – even this – is better than the chaos and killing from which they have fled: in Syria, where cities lie in rubble; in South Sudan, ravaged by war and poverty; in Libya, where warlords maraud and people suffer; in Iraq, where ISIS likes to videotape its slaughter of innocents.

These lands are no place for families to thrive. No place to raise one’s children.

In Budapest, the migrants – free at last of bombing and war – lie listlessly, waiting to board trains for Western Europe.

“We hope you will save us,” a Syrian refugee named Houriye told CNN. “I beg you to save us.”

But the migrants are denied by authorities. Hundreds wait. Still, they have experienced much worse than this.

Mahmoud, a chemical engineer, said he was a successful businessman until he lost it all to Syria’s war. The face of his 4-year-old son is scratched from a fall at a border crossing.

“It’s too tough for me to see my family like this,” he said.

Wildly varied response

The response of various European governments has varied wildly.

Hungary, a transit point for migrants trying to make their way north, has responded to the crisis by erecting a fence along its border with Serbia.

In Germany, the interior minister will address Parliament, after a planned asylum center was burned down.

Germany has been more accepting of asylum seekers, but political leaders there have had to contend with xenophobic protests.

On Tuesday, police arrested a suspect in an attack earlier in the week on about 40 asylum seekers in a shelter in Brandenburg.

And in France, thousands of migrants have tried to enter the United Kingdom through a French terminal near Calais. Instead, they are stuck at a makeshift camp on the French coast.

Caught in the middle are the desperate men and women, with children in tow, who have fled wars in Syria and Iraq in overcrowded, sometimes deadly voyages by land or by sea.

In just the latest example, at least 12 people traveling on boats filled with refugees drowned off the coast of Turkey, Turkish officials said, according to the country’s semiofficial news agency, Anadolu.

The incident took place after two boats left Bodrum and were trying to reach the Greek coast, Anadolu reported.

Passports and visas, please

At Keleti station in Budapest, tensions simmered.

Hundreds of people who had expected to board trains to Austria and Germany found Hungarian police officers barring their way.

They want to make their way to Western Europe, where they hope to claim asylum.

The journey for almost all of them has been arduous.

“We have been here five days. No food, no sleep – no place to sleep, no anything,” one Syrian refugee at Keleti station told CNN.

He and his fellow travelers had train tickets but were not being allowed through, he said.

“The problem is the amount of migrants with the wrong papers. Obviously, even if they have tickets, it is not enough.”

However, only those with proper documentation – that is, a valid passport, a ticket and any necessary visas – were being allowed into the station, with police checking the papers of those seeking to enter.

“European regulations require that a person wishing to go on to Austria or Germany, for example, has the necessary documents,” a government statement said. “People at Budapest’s Keleti railway station demanding to be allowed free passage are demanding something which is not possible under European legislation.”

A Hungarian government representative, János Lázár, requested that the German embassy provide information to migrants at Keleti rail station.

How you can help in the migrant crisis

Bavaria has had a great number of refugees arriving mainly from the Balkan route and the situation is getting difficult to handle, the Italian statement said.

“Work is in process to find new shelters for the continuously growing number of refugees,” the statement said.

The governor of Italy’s South Tyrol, Arno Kompatscher, has asked the Italian government for permission to help Bavaria, as part of “a strategy of European openness that allows to travel beyond regional and national limits,” the statement said.

The measures mean that those wanting to cross the border will need to provide the appropriate paperwork or identification. In the meantime, the region of Alto Adige will host 300 to 400 migrants or refugees with shelter and food.

Many refugees welcome: Citizens of Germany, Iceland show the way

Flashpoint: Hungary

Hungary has come under increasing pressure from Western European countries to change its approach to the migrant crisis.

It has been erecting a barbed-wire fence along its more than 100-mile border with Serbia in a bid to prevent migrants crossing illegally as they make their way north.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told CNN’s “The World Right Now” that the lack of documentation was a key issue for authorities there.

“That’s one major problem we have to face: that these people at least to the Hungarian border came without papers, or got rid of papers, and at the end of the day it’s basically impossible to determine whether they are telling the truth that they are coming from Syria or other war zones,” he said.

“So that is why up until their identity is … we cannot say anything else than that they are illegal migrants.”

Strangers in their own country - now in Serbia

Hundreds arrive in Munich

Even with the bottleneck in Hungary, migrants were still making their way to Germany, just not many by train.

Germany’s government said last month it expected up to 800,000 asylum seekers to come this year – four times more than in 2014.

At Munich’s main station, though, the arrival of refugees slowed to a trickle because of the restrictions in Budapest.

“It was so hard for us. It took a very long time,” said a woman from Afghanistan. “Especially in Hungary, it was very difficult to get through Hungary. We had almost no food and water.”

Merkel said Monday that Germany – where some are opposed to taking in asylum seekers – must show “flexibility” when it comes to dealing with the crisis.

European Union member states agreed in July to take in more than 32,000 migrants to ease the burden on Italy and Greece, where by far the largest numbers have arrived. Another 8,000 should be allocated by the end of the year, said the European Union’s commissioner for migration.

Things to know about Europe’s migrant crisis

Huge numbers make sea crossing

For the most part, the German public supports Merkel.

Local football clubs hoisted welcome banners over the weekend. Villages held “refugee welcome” parties for the newcomers. And a recent news poll estimated that 60% back Merkel’s warm welcome.

Some other countries are just as welcoming.

In Reykjavik, Icelanders called on the government to accept more refugees from Syria.

Others are reluctant.

Another is Slovakia, which said last month that it only wanted to take in Christians because it has only a tiny Muslim community and it would be hard for new Muslim arrivals to integrate.

The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain issued a statement Friday asking a special EU council to meet later this month to work on measures to better manage the influx of migrants.

See the latest from CNN teams in the field

More than 350,000 migrants have reached Mediterranean countries by sea in 2015 so far, the International Organization for Migration told CNN on Tuesday.

CNN’s Archith Seshadri, Arwa Damon, Gul Tuysuz, Frederik Pleitgen, Antonia Mortensen, Alexander Felton, Carol Jordan, Bharati Naik, Ray Sanchez, Michael Martinez contributed to this report.