Hundreds of refugees broke out of a Hungarian border camp and others set off on foot from Budapest as authorities scrambled to contain a crisis that has brought Europe’s asylum system to breaking point.
Police said they had given chase and halted traffic on a nearby motorway after300 refugees fled a crowded reception centre in Roszke on Hungary’s southern border with Serbia.
They said another 2,300 refugees still inside were threatening to break out too. The MTI state news agency said dozens more had fled a camp west of Budapest in the town of Bicske.
Hungary says it is enforcing EU rules that it must register all refugees caught crossing its borders, but thousands are refusing and demand they be allowed to continue their journey to Western Europe from war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Many are refugees from Syria.
In Bicske, some 500 refugees were spending a second day stranded on a train at a railway station, refusing the demands of riot police that they disembark and go to a nearby migrant reception centre.
Refugees hold hands as they leave Budapest, Hungary, on foot for Austria. Over 150,000 people seeking to enter Europe have reached Hungary this year
The right-wing government of prime minister Viktor Orban has vowed to seal the country off within days to a flow of refugees that has topped 140,000 this year.
Hungary has become a flashpoint in the crisis as the main entry point into the Europe’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel for refugees travelling over land across the Balkan peninsula to reach richer and more generous countries further north and west, above all Germany.
Lawmakers moved to tighten migration laws that the government says will cut illegal entry to zero as of September 15 by creating “transit zones” on the border where asylum seekers would be held until their requests are processed, and deported if denied. The measures introduce jail terms for those who cross the border without permission or damage a fence that Hungary is building along its 175-km frontier with Serbia.
But Budapest’s hard line has produced scenes of chaos and desperation this week. In Bicske, refugees holding out on the train told police that women and children in their group would leave for the border on foot today if the train was not allowed to continue its journey.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” said Ahmed Mahmoud, 60, who said he was a former Iraqi military officer who had lost both legs and was trying to join his daughter in Belgium. “The police told us, get fingerprinted or face jail time. So we gave our fingerprints and they told us we can go. But we can’t go to the west. I just want to see my child in Belgium.”
More than 1,000 refugees have been camped outside Budapest’s Keleti railway station after Hungary this week cancelled all trains to western Europe. A group of between 400 and 500 refugees, led by a Syrian man, marched through the capital, saying they would walk to Austria.
On radio, Orban defended his country’s stance, saying Budapest was defending Europe’s Schengen zone from a huge influx of refugees escaping war and poverty for Europe by rickety boat across the Mediterranean or by land across the Balkans.
Hungary has hit out at Germany, which expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year, for saying it would accept requests from Syrians regardless of where they entered the EU, contrary to EU rules.
Orban’s government says this is spurring the flight, which he says poses a threat to Europe’s “Christian values”.
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