No longer willing to wait for passage by train or official approval in Hungary, thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa—but mostly those fleeing war in Syria—undertook a dramatic 150-mile march from Budapest towards the Austrian border on Friday as they sought safety and relief from a treacherous journey that has now captured the attention of the world.
As the Associated Press reports:
The moves for freedom came after Hungarian authorities spent days preventing thousands of refugees, many fleeing war in Syria, from boarding trains to Germany amid a surging number of desperate people from Asia, Africa and the Middle East seeking refuge in Europe.
Most hope to eventually reach Germany or elsewhere in the West and are trying to avoid registering in Hungary, which is economically depressed and more likely to return them to their home countries than many Western European nations. Under European law, asylum seekers will be approved or disapproved in the countries where they are first registered.
According to the UK Independent:
Frustrated by the lack of action, [the people] set off for Austria on foot, aiming to reach Germany. Amira’s time in Hungary has shaken her belief in Europeans. "We don’t trust them: they will take us to the camps and beat us," she says. "I hope that when the train comes it will take us away from here; that is all that I want."
Amira crossed four borders to get to Budapest during a harrowing journey that is becoming a rite of passage for thousands seeking a better life in Europe.
Some 200,000 people have crossed the sea between Turkey and Greece, paying hundreds of pounds to smugglers for a space on overcrowded dinghies. “It’s the worst thing I have ever done in my life,” says Mountaha, 23, who fled from Idlib in Syria. She and her husband, Anas, 24, a computer engineer, initially fled to Turkey. But after six months there they decided they wanted a better future for their son Mohamed, who is two months old.
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The World Post adds:
Photographs of the march show children in strollers, elderly people in wheelchairs and people on crutches making the journey. The crowd broke through barricades that Hungarian authorities had set up outside Budapest, and chanted, "Germany, Germany," Reuters reports.
Also on Friday, Hungary closed one of its southern border crossings with neighboring Serbia after hundreds of people escaped from a nearby refugee camp. In the western Hungarian town of Bicske, hundreds of migrants refused to disembark from a train and transfer to a refugee camp. A Pakistani man reportedly died after falling on train tracks while escaping the Bicske train station.
In a surprise late announcement, according to AP, the Hungarian government announced it would offer buses to transport hundreds of migrants remaining in Budapest to the border with Austria.
In the United States, where criticism has focused on the inadequate response of the world's most "exceptional" nation, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley on Friday made a gesture of goodwill by declaring his support for a massive increase of refugees from Syria.
"I support the call from humanitarian and refugee organizations for the United States to accept at least 65,000 Syrian refugees next year," he said in a statement Friday. "If Germany —a country with one-fourth our population—can accept 800,000 refugees this year, certainly we—the nation of immigrants and refugees—can do more."
Having covered the developments of the refugee crisis in Europe throughout the day, the Guardian offered this latest rundown of developments as part of its comprehensive coverage:
- David Cameron has bowed to overwhelming domestic and international pressure and announced that Britain will accept thousands more Syrian refugees.The prime minister said his government would “act with our head and our heart” in response to the crisis and refugees’ suffering. This afternoon, he also pledged an extra £100m in humanitarian aid, which would bring the UK’s total contribution to over £1 billion.
- The UN said that Britain had agreed to take 4,000 more Syrian refugees. “Those spaces are going to be critical to the lives and future of 4,000 people,” spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told AP. It later said it may have spoken out of turn and that it had not received confirmation of the number of additional refugees to be taken by the UK.
- The humanitarian agency ActionAid said Cameron’s pledge to resettle thousands more Syrians falls well short of what’s need. Its head of humanitarian Response Mike Noyes said: “The promise that the UK will only take 4000 refugees, if correct, is nowhere near enough. It is the equivalent of only six refugees per parliamentary constituency and represents only 0.1% of the total number of Syrian refugees.”
- Scotland’s first minister Nichola Sturgeon said Scotland should accept 1,000 refugee as a “first step”. She said: “When the world is looking for leadership, courage and a simple display of common humanity, we will be found standing eagerly at the front of the queue.”
- The UN high commissioner for refugees has called on the European Union to admit up to 200,000 refugees as part of a mass relocation programme that would be binding on EU states. António Guterres said the EU was facing a defining moment.
- The Syrian boy whose death galvanised public opinion and put pressure on European governments to tackle the continent’s refugee crisis has been buried in the town of Kobani alongside his mother and brother. Aylan Kurdi’s father, Abdullah, who survived the capsizing that killed his family, wept as the bodies were buried in the predominantly Kurdish Syrian border town.
- People stranded in Budapest started a protest march to Austria after days of being refused train travel out of Hungary.Hundreds of people were filmed joining the march.
- Hundreds of people living in the Jungle camp in Calais have gone on hunger strike. A group of more than 100 Eritreans, Syrians and Sudanese people marched from the camp towards Calais town centre this morning carrying banners and chanting “freedom, freedom.”
- The EU’s migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos was the butt of angry protests as he made his way to the island’s seafront town hall this morning for talks with mayor Giorgos Kyritsis. Locals, enraged by what they have described as uncontrollable waves of “illegal immigrants” landing on their shores, screamed “traitors, get out of here” .
- Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, remains defiant on his country’s hardline anti-immigrant stance, with a waring that Europeans risk becoming a minority on their own continent. Hungary shut its main border crossing with Serbia after about 300 migrants escaped from a nearby refugee camp.
- The Hungarian parliament has also introduced emergency anti-migration laws in response to the record number of refugees and migrants crossing the country’s border. These include three-year jail terms for people climbing over the newly built razor wire fence on the border with Serbia, as well as new border “transit zones” to hold asylum seekers while their applications are being processed.
- The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have rejected any quota system for accepting migrants. The four EU leaders said the bloc’s approach should include “preserving the voluntary nature of EU solidarity measures.”
- Migrants and refugees have clashed with the security forces during angry protest on the Greek island of Lesbos. Greece’s Coast Guard and police used of stun grenades to deal with the uprising. Around 1,000 Afghans tried to occupy Blue Star 1 ferry shouting “Athens- Athens”. An occupation was avoided when the ferry’s gates closed.
- According to Amnesty International, refugees on the Greek island of Kos were attacked in the early hours of Friday by “thugs” with bats, telling them to “go back to their countries”. And at Budapest’s Keleti station this afternoon, Hungarian right-wing extremists threw fire crackers into a makeshift refugee camp.