Thousands of exhausted migrants have streamed into Austria from Hungary after Vienna and Berlin agreed to take in refugees desperate to start new lives in western Europe.
“I am standing right at the border to Hungary and am looking down. The streams (of people) keep coming,” Hans Peter Doskozil, the chief of police in Burgenland state, told the Austria Press Agency, adding that up to 3000 people had crossed by early on Saturday.
Buses and trains were to whisk the refugees to Vienna and towards Germany, he said, with one train having left the town of Nickelsdorf carrying 400 people.
The refugees began arriving at the Austrian border in the night after Hungary, which has become one of the newest flashpoints in Europe’s migrant crisis, began bussing people who had been stuck in the capital Budapest.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants have been making often perilous journeys to Europe this summer, most of them trying to reach countries in western Europe, particularly Germany, which has said it will no longer deport Syrian refugees and will take in 800,000 people this year.
Berlin urged an end to “recriminations” as Britain said it would take in thousands more Syrian refugees, but only directly from camps, not those already in overstretched Hungary, Greece and Italy, who are demanding their EU partners do more to help.
The human cost of the crisis was exposed in the past week with the publication of photographs of three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi as his body was washed up on a beach in Turkey after his family tried to cross into Greece.
The photo of the lifeless toddler sent shockwaves across the globe, galvanising public opinion and sending contributions to refugee and children’s agencies soaring.
About 50,000 migrants entered Hungary in August via the western Balkans, with a record 3300 arriving on Thursday, United Nations figures show.
Hungary has responded with tough new anti-immigration measures, including by criminalising unauthorised border crossing and any damage to a razor-wire fence recently erected along the border with Serbia.
Right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban sparked anger by saying his country did not want more Muslim migrants and warning that Europe would lose its Christian identity.
“We are very happy that something is happening at last. The next stop is Austria. The children are very tired, Hungary is very bad, we have to go somehow,” 23-year-old Osama from Syria told AFP as he set off from Hungary.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres warned on Friday the 28-member EU faced a “defining moment” and called for the mandatory resettlement of 200,000 refugees by EU states.
EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss the crisis ahead of a State of the Union address next week by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, when he will lay out new measures that could well exacerbate divisions in the bloc.
Juncker has proposed mandatory quotas for resettling 160,000 refugees, after an earlier plan for 40,000 met stiff opposition, notably from Hungary, and attracted offers of places for only 32,000.