Bid to diffuse tensions as migrants keep coming

Hungarian authorities began busing weary migrants and refugees to a nearby registration centre, defusing some tensions at Hungary’s southern border with Serbia.

But the human tide hardly ebbed, with a steady stream of people seen trying to approaching Hungary, their gateway into the European Union.

Hungary has made frantic and confused efforts to control the huge tide of migrants transiting the country as they try to reach Germany, leaving many trapped for days outside the border village of Roszke and furious at their treatment by Hungarian authorities.

Yesterday Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced fresh efforts to complete a fence to keep the refugees out.

The UN refugee agency, meanwhile, said it is concerned about the lack of proper reception facilities in the border area and that humanitarian aid needs to be stepped up there.

Babar Baloch said that “the border police are not trained to deal with the refugees.”

“When people come in you need to receive them properly. There are woman and children and they are just kept in the open. Temperatures are going down as well so we need to have a system where these people receive proper care,” he said.

Earlier in the day, refugees anxious to pass through Hungary who were frustrated at being trapped behind a police line began pushing and police shoved back. One man was hurt in a stampede.

“We’ve been here for two days and the Hungarian government only brings one bus?” said a Syrian man, who gave only his first name, Ali. 

“We’re asking to go back to Serbia and they are not giving us this right. We’re asking to go to Budapest and they are not giving us this right. Why? Why?”

Despite the efforts of volunteers offering water and some clothes, there were few amenities at the border. 

The area was strewn with garbage and more people could be seen walking along railroad tracks in Serbia on their way to Hungary. Many of the travellers had slept outdoors in a field during a cold night.

At Budapest’s Keleti train station, migrants were being allowed to board trains bound for Austria and Germany. In many cases, they were segregated from other passengers and told they could only enter certain carriages.

Almost all of those passing through Hungary are hoping to reach Germany or other Western European countries with generous welfare benefits and open asylum regulations.

Almost none wish to remain in Hungary, which is seen as unwelcoming to asylum-seekers and which does not have the same economic opportunities as much richer Germany.

Around the EU, debate continued over what each country should do. Hungary and other former east bloc countries have resisted accepting refugees, but Germany has thrown its weight behind a scheme to set a quota for each of the 28 EU nations.

Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann said countries opposed to taking in refugees under an EU-wide quota system should suffer financial penalties.

In Geneva, UN official Peter Sutherland said it’s “not enough” for countries like the US and wealthy Persian Gulf states to give money to help Syrian refugees — they must take them in, too.

“Buying your way out of this is not satisfactory,” the former EU commissioner from Ireland said, adding that UN agencies are well short of their funding needs for meeting the crisis.

Some 7,000 migrants arrived in Vienna between early Monday and early yesterday and “almost all of them continued on to Germany,” an Austrian police spokesman, Patrick Maierhofer, said.

After a stand-off with Hungarian authorities last week that saw thousands of migrants trapped at Keleti and elsewhere, the travellers were greatly relieved when Germany opened its doors to them over the weekend.

In Hungary, Orban was quoted in the pro-government Magyar Idok (Hungarian Times) daily newspaper as saying he was persuaded to deploy more workers to finish the fence along the border after an unannounced inspection of the barrier.

The 13-foot high fence along the 174km border with Serbia was supposed to be completed by August 31, but is facing delays. 

Defence Minister Csaba Hende, who was overseeing the construction being done mostly by soldiers, resigned on Monday after Orban’s visit because of the slow progress.

In Greece, the coast guard said its patrol vessels picked up nearly 500 migrants in 11 search and rescue missions over the previous 24 hours in the eastern Aegean Sea.

The people were found in small boats near the islands of Lesbos — which accounts for nearly one in two migrant arrivals in Greece — Samos, Kos, and the islet of Agathonissi.

More than 15,000 refugees and migrants are stranded on Lesbos, awaiting screening before they can board a ferry to the Greek mainland — from where they head north through Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary to seek asylum in more prosperous European countries.


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