Torrential rain deluges thousands of refugees

Thousands of people seeking refuge in Europe have endured torrential rain as they cross the Greek border into Macedonia.

An estimated 7,000 people have made their way past police in camouflage jackets as they contended with poor weather and muddy conditions.

The sudden onset of autumn has taken tens of thousands by surprise all along the Balkans route from Greece to Hungary, the main gateway to Western Europe for more than 160,000 asylum seekers from Syria and elsewhere already this year.

As recently as last week, those making the epic journey, much of it on foot, were baking in a region-wide heat wave and free to sleep under the stars.

Torrential rain deluges thousands of refugees

Now they are without shelter and struggling to keep campfires burning, highlighting the inadequate support provided by several European governments at each border crossing.

Conditions rapidly deteriorated on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia, where an estimated 3,000 people crossed at an approved rail site, or illegally by ducking under the barbed wire marking that frontier.

With Hungary and other nations providing few facilities on their borders, travellers have poured into the few tents erected recently by relief workers trying to compensate for the lack of government support.

Medics gave first aid to several mothers and their children and covered them with thermal blankets.

International aid workers said Hungary has failed to provide sufficient shelter at migrant bottlenecks on the border, particularly near the village of Roszke.

The country instead is investing in a new security regime, due to begin September 15, designed to close its border with Serbia backed by more than 3,000 troops, many of whom conducted drills on Thursday in cooperation with Serbian colleagues.

Conditions improved farther north on the route. Austrian police said more than 6,000 people crossed on Thursday from Hungary, chiefly near the town of Nickelsdorf, where authorities struggled to find enough buses, trains and emergency shelter.

Torrential rain deluges thousands of refugees

Most went to nearby towns, but more than 1,000 stayed in huge halls filled with beds near the border.

Earlier, Austria’s rail company suddenly cancelled all of its cross-border service with Hungary, citing what it called “a massive overload.”

That raised tensions at Budapest’s main Keleti station, where dozens of daily trains were scheduled to reach the Austrian capital, Vienna.

Several hundred people waited up to 10 hours with tickets in hand as police penned them into one area. Volunteers from the Migration Aid charity used bullhorns to try to reassure the crowd in both Arabic and English that the trains would come.

Confusion reigned as Keleti’s information board showed many westbound trains to Austria, but two dozen police in surgical masks and gloves – a measure they take fearing the foreigners might have contagious diseases – blocked their access to the platforms.

Hungarians and other international passengers were ferried by police along the edge of the asylum seekers to the trains.

As rumours spread that Austria was cancelling services, officials scrambled to shift train schedules. After hours without clear information and amid tears of joy and relief, police gradually allowed the crowd through to trains to the border near Nickelsdorf, where they faced short walks to Austrian aid workers.

Germany, the most popular destination for asylum seekers because of chancellor Angela Merkel’s pledge to provide refuge particularly to Syrians, has received more than 30,000 people since Saturday, when it struck an emergency deal - alongside Austria – with Hungary to accept thousands of people who had marched out of refugee camps and Keleti station toward Austria.

However, Austria said it is reviewing its policy of permitting Germany-bound migrants to pass through without even registering and expressed hope that Hungary’s tougher border measures would allow the country to regain control of its own asylum system.

Denmark’s police chief, Jens Henrik Hoejbjerg, said the country would permit all asylum seekers to reach Sweden unimpeded – a decision that flies in the face of European Union rules that refugee claims should be made in the first EU entry point.

In the Syrian capital of Damascus, the government of president Bashar al-Assad made a rare comment on the migration crisis, saying Europeans only had themselves to blame for backing rebel groups fighting the government for the past four years.

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