— Desperate migrants poured into the Keleti train station in Budapest on Thursday morning but were prevented from traveling to Germany
as Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, said that the migration crisis was a “German problem” and that Europe
had a moral duty to tell migrants not to come.
The comments by Mr. Orban, and the scenes of chaos at Keleti, which has emerged as a potent symbol of Europe’s struggle to come to terms with the migration crisis, highlighted Europe’s lack of preparedness to cope with an influx of migrants from Africa
, the Middle East
In recent days, more than 2,000 migrants waited outside the 19th-century station, stranded after perilous journeys that many had hoped would end in Germany, the favored destination.
The next move for the migrants remaining in Budapest was unclear, however, because Hungary’s railroad operator said that no direct trains were heading to Western Europe from Keleti, the city’s main rail station.
When one intercity train with about 500 migrants was stopped in Bicske
, about a half-hour west of Budapest, all Hungarians were told that they could get off, but non-Hungarians remained locked inside the train without drinking water. Riot police officers fended off migrants hanging out of windows and chanting that they wanted to go to Austria and Germany
“Nobody gets off! Nobody gets off!” the police shouted.
Some migrants managed to get off the train and lie on the tracks before being removed. Eventually, the migrants were allowed to leave the train and to remain on the platform, which the police blocked off.
The opening of Keleti station in the morning prompted a mad rush, and fights broke out in some train cars as migrants pushed and clawed their way inside.
“Where is this train going?” asked a Syrian man. “This isn’t going to Germany, is it?”
“No, this is a local, man,” someone answered as he walked past the train. “It’s going to the camps,” he added, referring to reports that the migrants would be sent to detention centers where requests for asylum are processed, a procedure that can take months.
Others began to speak of a trick played by the police. Soon, an underground concourse that had been transformed into a makeshift sanctuary and encampment was once again swelling with migrants, some of whom had apparently been unable to get onto trains.
Officers “left and let people come into the station, but now they’re back,” said Mohammad al-Bekaai, a 23-year-old Syrian who had traveled to Hungary from Jordan. “They’re going to pen these people inside and take them to the camp.”
Some of the migrants, appearing tired and defeated, were aware that trains might be headed to detention centers and were resigned to their fate. “Even if they take us to the camp, it’s better than staying in the station,” said Ali al-Taai, a Syrian from Deir al-Zour. “I’ve been there for six days without food and water. I’ve had enough.”
Speaking at a news conference in Brussels, where he was meeting with European Union leaders, Mr. Orban defended his government’s handling of the migration crisis and criticized European proposals that would require member states to accept migrants based on quotas.
His words received a cold reception from Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, which represents European Union leaders. Mr. Tusk called for much greater solidarity among European Union leaders and for the “fair distribution of at least 100,000 refugees” among the 28 member states — far more than had been previously suggested.
But Mr. Orban countered that, without stringent border controls, such a proposal was an “invitation” for migrants to come to Europe. He added that they were using countries like Hungary as a stopping point on the way to Germany, whose prosperity makes it a favored destination.
“Nobody would like to stay in Hungary,” he said. “All of them would like to go to Germany.” If the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, insists that “nobody can leave Hungary without registration,” he said, then “we will register them.”
Ms. Merkel gave a pointed rebuke to Mr. Orban during a visit to Switzerland
. “Germany is doing what is morally and legally obliged,” she said. “Not more, and not less.”
The mass movement of people is “a problem which affects all of us in Europe,” Ms. Merkel said. Moreover, the Geneva Conventions, which require among other things giving shelter to people fleeing war and hardship, are “not just valid in Germany, but in every European Union member state,” she said, according to the German news agency DPA.
Asked whether Hungary
’s approach was inhumane because it hampered the ability of people fleeing conflict to move on, and because the country is building a fence along its border with Serbia, Mr. Orban said that the policies were the most rational available under difficult circumstances.
Creating the impression that migrants should “just come because we are ready to accept everybody — that would be a moral failure because this is not the case,” Mr. Orban said. “So the moral, human thing is to make clear: Please don’t come.”
Back at Keleti station, migrants continued to look for ways to leave the country.
The Hungarian authorities had been keeping migrants out of the station, saying that they were obeying rules requiring migrants to be registered in the country where they first arrive in the European Union. It was unclear whether the opening of the gates to migrants signaled a change of policy.
Hungary, under the center-right government of Mr. Orban, has found itself a recalcitrant protagonist in the escalating migration crisis.
Countries like Germany want European Union members to accept a quota of migrants based on each country’s relative wealth and population. Mr. Orban, however, along with Britain and other countries, has been vociferously opposed to the proposal. He argues that migration to Hungary threatens to undermine quality of life in the country.
The degree of alarm in Hungary over immigration has been laid bare by the roughly 110-mile fence that 9,000 soldiers are building on the Serbian border. The fence, which is expected to be completed in the coming weeks, has been likened by some critics to the Iron Curtain.
On Wednesday, the image of a dead Syrian boy who washed up on a beach in Turkey
spread across the Internet, and advocates for migrants are hoping that the boy’s death will bring about a change in public opinion that will force European leaders to act.
Mr. Tusk was also critical of comments Mr. Orban made to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in which he suggested that the influx of migrants threatened to undermine the Continent’s Christian roots. “Not everyone is a fan of the controversial solutions proposed by Prime Minister Orban,” Mr. Tusk said at a joint news conference with the Hungarian leader on Thursday morning, “and I can understand why.”
“I want to underline that, for me, Christianity in public and social life carries a duty to our brothers in need,” said Mr. Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland
. “For a Christian, it shouldn’t matter what race, religion and nationality the person in need represents.”