News Daily Spot: Hungary closes access to refugees

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Hungary closes access to refugees


If we don’t succeed in fairly distributing refugees then of course the Schengen question will be on the agenda for many,” she told a news conference in Berlin. “We stand before a huge national challenge. That will be a central challenge not only for days or months but for a long period of time.”

But it is far from certain Merkel’s view will prevail when EU ministers hold a crisis meeting on 14 September. Britain, which is outside the Schengen zone, has said the border-free system is part of the problem, and a bloc of central European countries plans to oppose any binding quotas.

Hungarian authorities have closed Budapest’s main station to refugees and migrants following chaotic scenes on Monday, when people who had been camped outside for weeks were suddenly allowed to leave for Austria and Germany without visa checks.

The move followed the earlier closing of the train station altogether, when all trains to the west were stopped from leaving. About 100 police in helmets and wielding batons guarded the station and dozens of refugees and migrants who were inside were forced outside.

A government spokesman said Hungary was trying to enforce EU law, which requires anyone who wishes to travel in the borderless Schengen zone to hold a valid passport and visa.

The closure of the station to refugees and migrants appeared prompted in part by pressure from other EU countries trying to cope with arrivals from Hungary. Police in Vienna said on Tuesday that 3,650 people had arrived a day earlier at the city’s Westbahnhof station from Hungary, with most continuing on towards Germany.

“Allowing them to simply board in Budapest ... and watching as they are taken to the neighbour [Austria] – that’s not politics,” said the Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, in an interview with state broadcaster ORF.

While critical of Hungary, Austrian authorities also acknowledged they were overwhelmed by the thousands of people who arrived by rail on Monday evening. Police said they did not have the manpower to carry out effective controls, which normally would include turning back to Hungary those without proper travel documents who do not ask for asylum in Austria.

The Schengen agreement requires refugees to seek asylum in the first country they enter under the EU’s Dublin accord, but it emerged last week that Berlin had suspended it for Syrians who would now be permitted to stay in Germany and apply for refugee status – a move that angered Hungary, which said it would encourage more migrants to make the journey to Europe.

Hundreds of angry refugees and migrants demonstrated outside Budapest’s main station on Tuesday, demanding that it be reopened and they be allowed to travel on to Germany.

Those seeking to travel waved tickets, clapping, booing and hissing, and shouting “Germany, Germany” with police lined up at the entrance to the station.

Scuffles broke out earlier in the morning as people were blocked by police as they pushed towards metal gates at the platform where a train was scheduled to leave for Vienna and Munich.

Several said they spent hundreds of euros on tickets after police told them they would be allowed free passage.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said on Monday that the crisis could destroy the Schengen accord if other EU countries did not take a greater number of refugees.

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