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Refugees Race to Austria and Germany Before European Borders Close

5 minute read

On the platform of Budapest’s main train station, refugees scramble trying to find trains that are headed to the border with Austria.

Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans and others from the Middle East and Africa attempt to read the signs and schedules in Hungarian. Each train to the border takes hundreds more refugees to Western Europe.

Austria and Germany have essentially opened their borders to refugees and in the past two days as many as 12,000 have entered Austria, most bound for Germany. While that relieved the mounting pressure on Hungary, which had thousands of refugees outside its main train station last week, many more are entering the country to try and make their way north.

“We have war in Syria. We have superterrorists in Syria,” says Yaman as he boards a train bound for the Austrian border. “We can’t live there, not until the war is finished.”

And the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have no end in sight, fueling the biggest wave of refugees in Europe since World War II.

Just after midnight on Sept. 4 the Hungarian government sent dozens of city buses to transport refugees out of the country. Thousands piled on, almost clearing the square outside the train station and the concourse below where many were camped out. But by the morning hundreds more had arrived from the Serbian border.

Yaman and his eight friends crossed into Hungary on Sunday morning, being careful not to be caught by Hungarian security forces. Within hours they had arrived in Budapest and bought tickets, $12 each, onto Hegyeshalom, the last Hungarian village before the border. From there refugees walk the final 2 miles to Austria.

Around 2,000 other refugees also crossed into Hungary from Serbia today, according to Yaman, who didn’t want to use his last name, fearing for his family still in Syria. Most have ended up here in Budapest and each hour a train packed with refugees leaves for the border. The Hungarian police sit by and watch.

Families with small children scurry down the platform and struggle into the carriages. Most knew before they even left home that they wanted to make it to Germany.

“From the border, I’m going to Hungary and then on to Germany,” says Rayan, who also asked not to use his last name. He is from the Iraqi city of Mosul, which has been under the control of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) for more than one year. A local Hungarian woman helps him read the train schedule.

Hungary has promised to seal its southern border with Serbia by September 15 and has been constructing a 13-ft.-high fence on the frontier, but that has not stemmed the flow.

“It was one group after another across the border with Serbia,” said Rayan, who also crossed early Sunday.

“If anything I think the numbers have increased,” says Bastian Wilplinger, an Austrian volunteer who is helping to organize other Austrians to come to Hungary and drive refugees up to the border.

Today, he says, they took hundreds of people and hope to help more, but he doesn’t think the open-door policy of Austria and Germany will last long. On Monday, the BBC reported that Germany’s willingness to help “should not be overstretched,” and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann has already indicated the doors may shut soon.

“We have always said this is an emergency situation in which we must act quickly and humanely. We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation,” Faymann told media. “Now we have to move step by step away from emergency measures towards normality in conformity with the law and dignity.”

Wilplinger points out that few refugees stay in Austria, most want to go on to Germany.

“When Germany says ‘stop,’ Austria will close,” he says. “Austria is a transit route now. When Germany closes its doors, in the same second Austria will close its doors.”

If that happens, it’s likely to create a new bottleneck in Hungary. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban — who has been calling on Austria to close its borders — has been clear that the refugees, especially Muslims, are not welcome here. He even wants to make it crime for refugees to cross the border illegally, punishable by up to three years in prison. If Hungary does manage to seal its 100-mile long border with Serbia, a seemingly impossible task, refugees will be stuck there, in a country with high unemployment and few resources to help refugees.

At the same time, an estimated 10,000 refugees are stuck on one Greek island alone and thousands more arrive on the shores of southern Europe each day, most with their sights set on Western Europe. The 10,000 refugees that are expected to enter Germany this weekend are only the crest of a massive wave of migration.

These Photos Show the Massive Scale of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Greece Migrants
Syrian and Afghan refugees warm themselves and dry their clothes around a fire after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos, early on Oct. 7, 2015. Muhammed Muheisen—AP
migrant refugee greece
A migrant who recently arrived across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey, watching a ferry in the port of Mytilene, Lesbos island, Greece, on Oct. 5, 2015.Zoltan Balogh—EPA
refugees migrants Lesbos Greek islands
An Afghan wades to the shore after arriving in an overloaded rubber dinghy on the coast near Skala Sikaminias, Lesbos island, Greece, Oct. 1, 2015. Filip Singer—EPA
Syrian refugees Lesbos Greece
Syrian refugees are covered with life blankets upon arriving to the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, on Sept. 28, 2015. Aris Messinis—AFP/Getty Images
migrants refugees Lesbos
Migrants and refugees arrive on Sykamia beach, west of the port of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey, on Sept. 22, 2015. Iakovos Hatzistavrou—AFP/Getty Images
Croatia Migrants
Migrants and refugees board a train by climbing through the windows as they try to avoid a police barrier at the station in Tovarnik, Croatia, on Sept. 20, 2015. Manu Brabo—AP
Croatia Migrants
A Syrian refugee boy cries while he and his family try to board a train at the station in Tovarnik, Croatia, on Sept. 20, 2015.Manu Brabo—AP
migrants hungary serbia border clash
A migrant holds his child during a clash with Hungarian riot police at the Horgos border crossing in Serbia, on Sept. 16, 2015.Sergey Ponomarev—The New York Times/Redux
migrants serbia
Migrants sleep on a highway in front of a barrier at the border with Hungary near the village of Horgos, Serbia, on Sept. 16, 2015. Marko Djurica—Reuters
Hungary Serbia border
A wagon equipped with razor wire is placed at the border between Hungary and Serbia in Roszke, some 10 miles southeast from Budapest, Hungary, Sept. 14, 2015, to close the gap of the temporary border fence at the Horgos-Szeged railway line. Balazs Mohai—EPA
refugees migrants Lesbos
A refugee reacts from exhaustion while swimming towards the shore after a dinghy carrying Syrian and Afghan refugees before reaching the Greek island of Lesbos, on Sept. 13, 2015. Alkis Konstantinidis—Reuters
refugees migrants Hungary
Syrian people sleep inside a greenhouse at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers near Roszke, southern Hungary, on Sept. 13, 2015. Muhammed Muheisen—AP
Hungary Migrants refugees children
Syrian refugee Raed Alabdou, 24, holds his one-month old daughter Roa'a, while he and his wife hide in a field not to be seen by Hungarian policemen, after they crossed the Serbian-Hungarian border near Roszke, southern Hungary, on Sept. 11, 2015. Muhammed Muheisen—AP
refugees migrants macedonia
Migrants and refugees beg Macedonian police to allow passage to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia during a rainstorm, near the Greek village of Idomeni, on Sept. 10, 2015. Yannis Behrakis—Reuters
refugees migrants Morahalom Hungary
Migrants run over a motorway from a collection point that had been set up to transport people to camps in Morahalom, Hungary, on Sept. 9, 2015.Dan Kitwood—Getty Images
syrian refugee migrant hungary
A young Syrian man from Damascus tries to evade the Hungarian police by sneaking through a forest close to the Serbian border in Morahalom, Hungary, on Sept. 8, 2015. Dan Kitwood—Getty Images
refugees migrants Serbia
Migrants cross into Hungary as they walk over railroad tracks at the Serbian border with Hungary in Horgas, Serbia, on Sept. 7, 2015.Dan Kitwood— Getty Images
refugee migrant Lesbos
A refugee from Syria prays after arriving on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos aboard an inflatable dinghy across the Aegean Sea from Turkey, on Sept. 7, 2015. Angelos Tzortzinis—AFP/Getty Images
syrian refugees migrants greek coast guard
A migrant scrambles to climb back aboard a rubber dinghy full of his fellow Syrians as they try to cross from Turkey to the Greek islands on their way to claim asylum in the European Union, late on Sept. 6, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
syrian refugees migrants greek coast guard
A Syrian migrant aboard a flimsy rubber motorboat hands his one-month-old baby to Greek coast guards, who have arrived to rescue the boat full of migrants from dangerous waters near the border between Greece and Turkey, early on Sept. 7, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Greece Migrants
A young Syrian boy is wrapped with a thermal blanket as he arrives with others at the coast on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey, at the island of Lesbos, Greece, on Sept. 7, 2015.Petros Giannakouris—AP
Greece Migrants
Refugees and migrants wait to cross the border from the northern Greek village of Idomeni to southern Macedonia, on Sept. 7, 2015. Giannis Papanikos—AP
Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke, Hungary
Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke, Hungary, on Sept. 6, 2015.Marko Djurica—Reuters
migrant refugees train macedonia
Migrant families ride a train from Gevgelija to the Serbian border in Macedonia, on Sept. 4, 2015.Dan Kitwood—Getty Images
Italy Migrants refugees
Migrants crowd the bridge of the Norwegian Siem Pilot ship sailing along the Mediterranean sea, on Sept. 2, 2015. Gregorio Borgia—AP
Aylan Kurdi boy drowned
A Turkish gendarme carries the body of Alan Kurdi, 3, who drowned along with his brother Galip, 5, and their mother, in a failed attempt to sail to the Greek island of Kos, in the coastal town of Bodrum, Turkey, on Sept. 2, 2015.Reuters
Migrant crisis
Dozens of refugee families, mostly from Syria, camped near the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary on Sept. 2, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
Migrant crisis
A Syrian migrant bids farewell to the Hungarian volunteers who welcomed him upon his arrival in the European Union in Szeged, Hungary on Aug. 30, 2015.Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME
refugees migrants Hungarian-Serbian border
A father of a migrants family is arrested by the local police near the village of Roszke on the Hungarian-Serbian border on Aug. 28, 2015.Attila Kisbender—AFP/Getty Images
Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke
Syrian migrants cross under a fence as they enter Hungary at the border with Serbia, near Roszke, on Aug. 27, 2015. Bernadett Szabo—Reuters
Hungary border fence migrants refugees
Hungarian soldiers install a wire fence at the border between Hungary and Serbia near Hercegszanto, 115 miles southeast from Budapest, on Aug. 25, 2015. Tamas Soki—EPA
syrian migrant refugee girl greece
A little girl from Syria looks out of a bus as the ferry she arrived in is reflected in the bus window at the port of Piraeus, Greece, on Aug. 25, 2015. Petros Giannakouris—AP
Macedonian police clash with refugees at blocked border
Children cry as migrants waiting on the Greek side of the border break through a cordon of Macedonian special police forces to cross into Macedonia, near the southern city of Gevgelija, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on Aug. 21, 2015.Georgi Licovski—EPA
Calais migrants
Gendarmerie attempt to prevent people from entering the Eurotunnel terminal in Coquelles, Calais, France on July 30, 2015.Rob Stothard—Getty Images
Kos Migrants Greece
Life vests and a deflated dinghy are seen on a beach on the Greek island of Kos, following the arrival of Afghan immigrants, on May 30, 2015.Yannis Behrakis—Reuters

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