In the latest flare up of the migrant crisis engulfing Europe, hundreds of migrants have been protesting outside a train station in Budapest this morning after police sealed off the terminal and refused them passage through the EU. The crowd chanted “Germany! Germany!” and waved their tickets.
Around 1,000 migrants, mostly Syrians, Eritreans and Afghans, congregated outside Keleti station to the east of the Hungarian capital city this morning as the station was evacuated, according to the BBC. Public announcements declared that no trains would be leaving and the station was briefly closed, before being re-opened to non-migrant passengers.
Police lines held back the migrant crowds who were demanding the right to travel across the continent within the Schengen area to Germany, in line with the hundreds of thousands of fellow migrants who have made the same journey this year so far.
But the incident was just one flash point in a series of incidents across the EU that have occurred as the migrant flood threatens to overwhelm member states. In the last ten days:
- Migrants stormed across the border from Greece into Macedonia, breaking through a police barricade and packing themselves into trains heading north.
- The Schengen (free movement) treaty was called into question after a Moroccan drifter opened fire on a packed train in France.
- A new migrant surge swept up to Hungary’s southern border, breaching gaps in the 110 mile fence still under construction there.
- Migrants staged a protest in Milan, Italy over living conditions.
- 70 migrants were found dead in the back of a lorry in Austria.
- Up to 200 drowned when a boat sank off the coast of Libya.
- Both Germany and France declared their borders open to anyone fleeing war or persecution.
Tension is escalating across the region as EU member states starting to fall out over how to best deal with the crisis. France has already condemned Hungary for constructing a razor-wire topped fence along its border with Serbia to deter migrants, accusing the country of flouting “the common values of Europe”.
The Hungarian foreign secretary Peter Szijjarto called such criticism “shocking and groundless”.
The UN’s refugee spokesman Babar Baloch also criticised the Hungarian government’s approach, complaining that they “gone out to the public trying to vilify the refugees so they portray being refugee as something – the way they describe it – that these people do not deserve international protection”.
A split is broadly opening up between east and west Europe, as eastern nations take a stance against the Commission’s plans to distribute migrants across the EU bloc. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have invited Hungary and Poland to forge a joint response to the crisis which mainly involves rejecting any calls by the Commission to accept quotas of migrants.
“We strongly reject any quotas … If a mechanism for automatic redistribution of migrants is adopted, then we will wake up one day and have 100,000 people from the Arab world and that is a problem I would not like Slovakia to have,” Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico told reporters during a media conference on live TV
“We are prepared to do what is needed and what is within our possibilities, for people who really need help, separate them from economic migrants,” he added.
France and Germany are conversely leading calls for borders to be unequivocally opened to asylum seekers. On Sunday the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told a Socialist Party meeting that “Each asylum demand must be examined rapidly,” and that those “fleeing war, persecution, torture, oppression, must be welcomed.”
He then went on to quote a plaque on the Statue of Liberty which begins: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” insisting “Our task is to find lasting responses founded on the values of humanity, responsibility and firmness.”
His invitation, if fully implemented, would extend to some 837 million people.
However, Britain’s home secretary Theresa May has indicated that she will get tough on people who abuse the EU’s freedom of movement principle by coming to the UK without a job, writing in the Sunday Times: “When it was first enshrined, free movement meant the freedom to move to a job, not the freedom to cross borders to look for work or claim benefits.
“Yet last year, four out of 10 EU migrants, 63,000 people, came here with no definite job whatsoever. We must take some big decisions, face down powerful interests and reinstate the original principle underlying free movement within the EU.”
Luxembourg, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, has confirmed this morning that it has called an extraordinary meeting of the home and interior secretaries of the EU member states with a view to thrashing out concrete policies to tackle the migrant crisis.
In a statement, the Presidency said: “The situation of migration phenomena outside and inside the European Union has recently taken unprecedented proportions.
“After a presentation of migration flows by the European agencies Frontex and EASO (European Asylum Support Office), the meeting should discuss the programming of future work, in particular the return policy, international cooperation, and investigation and measures to prevent trafficking of migrants.”