Austria’s leader said late Sunday that the country would begin phasing out emergency measures that helped thousands of refugees make their way to Germany over the weekend.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann told reporters he had made the decision following what he called ” intensive talks” with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“We have always said this is an emergency situation in which we must act quickly and humanely,” said Faymann. “We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation. Now we have to move step-by-step away from emergency measures towards normality, in conformity with the law and dignity.”
Austria’s national railway company told the Associated Press it plans to end special service to the Hungarian border town of Hegyeshalom on Monday. Direct service between Vienna and Budapest will take its place will take their place, spokeswoman Sonya Horner said.
Refugees from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia who often have spent weeks traveling through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans to reach Hungary, a popular back door into the European Union, found to their surprise they were permitted Sunday to buy tickets to take them all the way into Austria and Germany. Hungary had insisted last week they would no longer be allowed to do this.
Fourteen trains from Hungary’s capital of Budapest arrived at the Hegyeshalom station Sunday, disgorging refugees onto the platform. Police didn’t check travel documents as passengers walked a few yards to waiting Austria-bound trains, which typically left less than 3 minutes later. Austrian police said more than 13,000 refugees had passed through their country to Germany over the past two days, far more than expected.
“No check, no problem,” said Reza Wafai, a 19-year-old from Bamiyan, Afghanistan, who hopes to join relatives in Dortmund, Germany. He displayed his just-purchased ticket to Vienna costing 9,135 forints ($32.50). He was traveling without a passport, carrying only a black-and-white Hungarian asylum seeker ID.
EU rules stipulate asylum seekers should seek refuge in their initial EU entry point. But virtually none of the refugees want to claim asylum in Hungary, where the government is building border defenses and trying to make it increasingly hard for asylum seekers to enter.
Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told The Associated Press that Hungary had decided to drop visa checks on train ticket customers, a measure introduced only Tuesday, because of the sudden drop in refugee numbers made possible by Germany and Austria’s breakthrough decision to take thousands of asylum seekers stuck in Hungary. The country used 104 buses to clear Budapest’s central Keleti train station and Hungary’s major motorway of more than 4,000 refugees and deliver them to the border.
Sunday’s free movement for refugees on trains represented an effort “to return to normality, whatever that is,” Kovacs said.
The refugee crisis, Europe’s most severe since the end of World War II, has exposed deep divisions in the 28-member bloc over how to handle the situation. Germany, which was expected to receive an estimated 800,000 refugees this year, said it was putting no limit on the number displaced people it would accept. Other countries, like the United Kingdom, have said they would take in thousands more refugees than they had previously said they would.
But E.U. foreign ministers failed to agree practical steps to solve the crisis during a meeting in Luxembourg on Saturday, and despite allowing thousands to travel to Austria and Germany, Hungary has provided an otherwise lukewarm welcome, with thousands of refugees being sent to camps.
“While Europe rejoiced in happy images from Austria and Germany on Saturday, refugees crossing into Hungary right now see a very different picture: riot police and a cold hard ground to sleep on,” Amnesty International researcher Barbora Cernusakova told Sky News.
Hungary is also constructing a fence along its southern frontier with Serbia in order to keep out, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that a fence would be constructed along his country’s border with Jordan to prevent Syrian refugees arriving.
Amnesty International figures show the influx of refugees into Europe pales in comparison to the numbers taken by Lebanon (1.2 million), Jordan (650,000) and Turkey (1.9 million).
Division also remains on how to tackle the root cause of the mass migration from Syria, with reports that the British government is seeking to persuade opposition Members of Parliament to back airstrikes in Syria. France is also set to make a decision on airstrikes this week.