Thousands of refugees yesterday streamed into Germany — many travelling through Austria from Hungary where they had been stranded against their will for days — while EU governments argue over how to respond.
A convoy of around 140 cars and vans filled with food and water left Vienna to collect exhausted refugees, many from Syria, who had set out to walk the 170km stretch through the rain from Hungary’s capital Budapest to the Austrian border, from where many would continue to Germany.
Onlookers clapped and chanted, “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here,” as volunteers loaded their vehicles with food, water, and soft toys.
However, the EU is deeply divided over how to cope with the influx of people from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, testing the principle of solidarity, making the 28-nation bloc look ineffective and heartless, pitting member states against each other, fuelling political populism and anti-Muslim sentiment.
Volunteers sort donated clothes for refugees in Dortmund, Germany, yesterday.
A total of 6,800 refugees entered Germany on Saturday with another 5,000 expected yesterday, Bavarian state officials said.
Germany expects 800,000 refugees this year and urged other EU members to open their doors. But others say the focus should be on tackling the violence in the Middle East that has caused them to flee their homes.
The numbers in Europe are small compared to several million refugees in Syria’s neighbours Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan and Pope Francis yesterday called for every European parish and religious community to take in one refugee family each.
But a poll in France’s Aujourd ‘hui en France newspaper showed 55% of French people are opposed to softening rules for migrants to access refugee status.
A welcome sign for refugees.
A dozen or so wellwishers offering chocolate and bananas greeted between 600 and 700 people, mostly from Syria, arriving on two trains in the southern German city of Munich. A third was expected with about 450 people, an regional administration spokeswoman said.
Most were bussed to reception centres after being given medical checks, food, and clean clothing.
Many said they were from Syria, while others were from Afghanistan or Iraq.
In Hungary, refugees freely boarded trains at Keleti station in Budapest, following handwritten signs in Arabic directing people to trains to Hegyeshalom on the border with Austria. Volunteers handed out food and clothing to hundreds of people filling the station.
A refugee looks out of a bus after arriving at the Munich main station, southern Germany.
Around 4,000 crossed into Austria from Hungary yesterday, Austrian police said. More than 10,000 have left Hungary since the border was thrown open on Saturday after thousands spent days camping outside the station.
Many are happy to have left Hungary after several days of confrontations with police and chaotic handling by authorities.
Hungary deployed more than 100 buses overnight on Saturday to take to Austria thousands of refugees who had streamed into the country after northward journeys through the Balkans from Greece.
Austria said it had agreed with Germany to allow the refugees access, waiving asylum rules that require migrants to register in the first EU country they reach.
Wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags, long lines of people, many carrying sleeping children, got off buses on the Hungarian side of the border and walked through the rain into Austria.
“We’re happy. We’ll go to Germany,” said a Syrian man who gave his name as Mohammed; Europe’s biggest and most affluent economy was the favoured destination of most.
Hungary, the main entry point into Europe’s borderless Schengen zone for migrants, has taken a hard line, vowing to seal its southern frontier with a new, high fence by Sept. 15. Hungarian officials have portrayed the crisis as a defence of Europe’s prosperity, identity and “Christian values” against an influx of mainly Muslim refugees.
Tima Kurdi, centre, carrying flowers, at a service in Canada for drowned Syrian boys Alan and Ghalib.
Dozens of white balloons drifted over Vancouver’s harbour to honour the young Syrian boys whose deaths at sea sparked worldwide outrage about the refugee crisis.
The boys’ aunt, Tima Kurdi, stood looking at the sky after she and other mourners let go of the balloons, which had photos attached of three-year-old Aylan and Galip, five.
With tears in her eyes, she tossed a bouquet of yellow flowers into the water. Ms Kurdi said she hopes to bring the rest of her family to Canada, which she made home more than two decades ago.
Her brother, Abdullah, is not ready to leave his Syrian hometown of Kobani, where his sons and wife Rehanna were buried on Friday, she said.
They drowned after piling into an overloaded boat in Turkey headed for the Greek island of Kos.
Her brother was one of the few to survive.
“One day, I will bring him here. He cannot be by himself there,” Ms Kurdi said.
Family, friends and supporters packed a theatre on Saturday for a memorial service.
Ms Kurdi said the trip was the only option left for the family to have a better life in a European country.
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