BUDAPEST, Hungary—Tempers flared among the thousands trapped in a makeshift refugee camp in the heart of Budapest yesterday as Hungary played hardball with its unwelcome visitors for a second day, blocking train ticket-clutching migrants from travelling deeper into Europe.
The migrants, who have swamped every nook and cranny of public space outside the city’s Keleti train station, threatened to walk the 170 km to the Austrian border if police don’t let them board trains to their desired destinations in Austria and Germany.
“I will walk the whole way if I must,” declared 28-year-old Ahmed Shamoun, who deserted Syria’s army three months ago, leaving nine brothers and eight sisters behind in Damascus.
“I could pay a taxi 500 euros [$550] to take me to Austria but the police might stop me,” he noted.
“I could wait here forever before Hungary lets me take the train.”
Hungary tantalizingly opened the way Monday, allowing more than 1,000 migrants to pack westbound trains—and inspiring a migrant surge to the capital—before it withdrew the option 24 hours later.
The question of how to defuse the human gridlock in Hungary was set to dominate meetings in Brussels today between EU leaders and Hungary’s anti-immigrant prime minister, Viktor Orban.
Hungary, which for months had permitted most applicants to head west after short bureaucratic delays, now says it won’t let more groups deeper into the European Union and has cited EU backing for the move.
Police blocking migrants from entering the capital’s main international train hub also stopped them from marching around the station—sparking scenes of anger but no violence.
Migrants “are not entitled to move freely within the European Union even after entering Hungary,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs told The Associated Press.
The tent city outside Keleti steadily has grown to an estimated 3,000 migrants camped out on the concrete plaza and subway entrances.
Men sleep tightly packed together, using backpacks for pillows, as young children play in their midst, colouring with crayons or swerving around the carpet of bodies on tricycles.
Rumors in shouted Arabic spread quickly, fuelling surges of excitement and fury as people are told that the train station soon will reopen for migrants, or that police are about to attack and detain them.
Conditions around the transportation hub also have grown increasingly squalid despite the efforts of volunteers distributing water, food, medicine, and disinfectants.
Local restaurants demand cash to let migrants use their restrooms.
A lone city fire hose provides water from a faucet, where a sign in English prohibiting the washing of feet is ignored.