Thousands of exhausted migrants streamed into Austria on Saturday, bussed to the border by a Hungarian government that gave up trying to hold them back as Europe’s asylum system buckled under pressure from the numbers reaching its frontiers.
After days of confrontation and chaos, Hungary’s right-wing government deployed dozens of buses to move on migrants from the capital, Budapest, and pick up over 1,000 – many of them refugees from the Syrian war – who had set off by foot on Friday down the main highway to Vienna.
Austria said it had agreed with Germany that they would allow the migrants access, waiving the rules of an asylum system brought to breaking point by Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.
Wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags against the rain, long lines of visibly exhausted migrants, many carrying small children, climbed off buses on the Hungarian side of the border and walked into Austria, receiving fruit and water from aid workers. Some waiting Austrians held signs that read, “Refugees welcome”.
“We’re happy. We’ll go to Germany,” said a Syrian man who gave his name as Mohammed. Another, who declined to be named, said: “Hungary should be fired from the European Union. Such bad treatment.”
Austrian police said 2,000 had arrived at the border, with many more likely to follow during the day. Trains were laid on to take them from the border town of Nickelsdorf to Vienna.
Hungary cited traffic safety for its decision to move the migrants on.
But it appeared to mark an admission that the government had lost control in the face of overwhelming numbers determined to reach the richer nations of northern and western Europe at the end of an often perilous journey from war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
“Because of today’s emergency situation on the Hungarian border, Austria and Germany agree in this case to a continuation of the refugees’ journey into their countries,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said on his Facebook page.
Read more at Reuters