Thousands of Migrants Arrive in Austria as Hungary Closes Rail Station

Thousands of migrants and asylum seekers arrived in Austria on Monday having traveled across the border from Hungary, as authorities in both countries struggle to contain the increasing numbers of people without visas attempting to travel onwards to countries like Germany, France and the UK.

Austrian police said on Tuesday that 3,650 migrants arrived in Vienna's main Westbahnhof rail station on Monday, according to AFP—the highest daily number for this year—and were met by volunteers handing out food and drink. After arriving at the station, many of the migrants then boarded trains to Salzburg, while others headed to Munich in Germany.

Austria's rail service, OeBB, said the route from Budapest was facing severe delays due to "overcrowding," according to the BBC. Austrian authorities are reportedly intercepting and stopping some trains before they reach Vienna, saying they will turn back anyone on board who had made a request for asylum in Hungary—but it is not clear how many have been stopped. Austrian security forces stopped two trains with several hundred migrants on board near the border with Hungary on Monday, according to a police spokesperson.

Some of those travelling to northern Europe spoke to Reuters about the ease of the journey across the continent. "Thank God nobody asked for a passport....No police, no problem," Khalil, 33, an English teacher from Kobani in Syria, said. Khalil said he had bought train tickets in Budapest for himself, his wife, and his sick baby daughter in order to travel to Hamburg in northern Germany. In August, Germany raised its forecast for the number of refugees and asylum seekers reaching the country this year to 800,000.

Meanwhile, Budapest's main international station Keleti was evacuated and closed on Tuesday morning, causing hundreds of frustrated migrants hoping to reach Austria and Germany to protest outside the station, reports AFP. A public tannoy announcement stated that no trains would be leaving or arriving "until further notice."

The EU's Schengen area allows for free movement between 26 EU member states, allowing citizens to cross Europe's internal borders without border checks. Yet under the EU's Dublin regulation, asylum seekers are supposed to apply in the first EU country in which they arrive or face deportation. The rule is increasingly being ignored as unprecedented numbers of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea arrive in southern and central European countries that are overwhelmed by the numbers crossing into their borders. 107,500 migrants and asylum seekers arrived to Europe in July alone.

Zoltán Kovács, spokesperson for the Hungarian Prime Minister's Office, told Newsweek last week that smugglers and migrants are taking advantage of the Schengen system to move on to other countries after entering Hungary. "Human traffickers and, I'm sorry to say, the migrants themselves misuse or abuse [the system] because they know [when] they are within the Schengen zone, their capability of moving increases," he said. Kovacs told Reuters on Tuesday that the closure of the Budapest train station was in order to uphold EU law, which says that anyone travelling across European borders must hold a valid passport and Schengen visa.

As of August 25, some 133,000 people had applied for asylum in Hungary this year. The Budapest Office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) expects the number to hit 200,000 by the end of the year. Hungary received 43,000 applications in 2014.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that the migrant crisis could destroy the Schengen open borders policy. She told a news conference in Berlin: "If we don't succeed in fairly distributing refugees then of course the Schengen question will be on the agenda for many. We stand before a huge national challenge. That will be a central challenge not only for days or months but for a long period of time."

EU interior and justice ministers announced on Sunday that they will meet in Brussels in September to come up with solutions to deal with Europe's migrant crisis. A joint statement from the home affairs ministers of Germany, France and Britain said they had "asked the Luxembourg presidency to organise a special meeting of justice and interior ministers within the next two weeks, so as to find concrete steps" to deal with the situation.

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