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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Hundreds of refugees start leaving Budapest to walk to Austria

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Hundreds of refugees who have been stuck for days in Budapest have gathered their belongings and started marching out of the city, vowing to make it to Austria on foot.

They set out from Keleti railway station after Hungarian authorities blocked them from boarding western-bound trains.

They carried their belongings in bags and backpacks as they snaked through the capital in a line stretching nearly half a mile, hampering traffic at times, as they began the 100-mile journey to the Austrian border.

The refugees, many fleeing war in Syria, want to 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 are approved or disapproved in the countries where they first register.

One man, 23-year-old Osama Morzar, from Aleppo, Syria, was so determined not to be registered in Hungary that he removed his fingerprints with acid, holding up smooth finger pads as proof.

“The government of Hungary is very bad,” said Mr Morzar, who studied pharmacology at Aleppo’s university. “The United Nations should help.”

A couple from Baghdad, Mohammed and Zahara, who marched with a toddler, said they had been in a Hungarian asylum camp and were roughed up by guards because they refused to be fingerprinted.

She said she has family in Belgium and is determined to seek asylum there. They would not give their last names.

Meanwhile, a stand-off continued for a second day at the station in Bicske, a town north west of Budapest that holds one of the country’s five camps for asylum seekers.

Migrants with signs saying "I want to go to Germany"
Migrants with signs saying “I want to go to Germany”

Hundreds of people sat on a train there, some with tickets they had purchased to Berlin or Vienna. Although some eventually relented and registered at the asylum centre, most were determined not to.

At some point, about 100 people left the train to protest in front of a large number of TV cameras and journalists. Using white paint, they wrote “no camp/no Hungary/freedom train” on the side of the carriage.

“The situation is so bad. We have so many sick people on the train. We have pregnant women, no food, no water,” said Adnan Shanan, a 35-year-old from Latakia, Syria, who said he was fleeing war in his homeland.

“We don’t need to stay here one more day. We need to move to Munich, to anywhere else, we can’t stay here. We can’t wait until tomorrow. We need a decision today, now,” Mr Shanan said.

Hungary’s immigration office said 64 migrants who had been registered in Budapest and were taken by bus to the Bicske centre escaped from police while getting off the bus in Bicske.

A Hungarian policeman who would only give his first name, Zoltan, said officers had been told to be prepared to stay two to three more days and that there were no plans to force the refugees from the trains.

The events came a day after a round of recriminations among EU leaders. Prime minister Viktor Orban has said the human wave is a German problem, but chancellor Angela Merkel said the obligation to protect refugees “applies not just in Germany, but in every European member”.

Mr Orban reiterated on Hungarian state radio his determination to stop the refugees.

“Today we are talking about tens of thousands but next year we will be talking about millions and this has no end.

“We have to make it clear that we can’t allow everyone in, because if we allow everyone in, Europe is finished. If you are rich and attractive to others, you also have to be strong because if not, they will take away what you have worked for and you will be poor too.”

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