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Hungarian Police Try To Get Migrants Off Train And To Refugee Camp


It is deeply symbolic that the latest chapter of the refugee crisis in Europe is unfolding on trains and in train stations.


The rail network there ties together a continent with far better service than in the United States. People fleeing the wars in Syria and elsewhere have arrived in the relative safety of Europe and want access to that network.

MONTAGNE: European authorities are trying desperately to stop them. The latest episode played out in Budapest, where Hungarian officials suspended train service. But one train did manage to leave the station. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports on what happened next.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Thousands of people desperate to reach Western Europe are still camped out around the central train station in downtown Budapest. When police lifted a two-day blockade of the station yesterday, hundreds of migrants crammed onto a train they believed was going to Germany, but it only took them about 45 minutes west of the Hungarian capital to the provincial town of Bicske. There, police closed the station and surrounded the train. They wanted to force the migrants to go to a refugee camp, but the migrants refused to get off the train. Gyorgy Kakuk is an activist and politician opposed to the anti-migrant policies of Hungary's current government.

GYORGY KAKUK: These people in this morning, they lured into these trains with the hope that these train's going to bring them to Germany, at least that was in their mind. And obviously, you know, they don't want to stay in Hungary. Why are we keeping them in Hungary? It goes against everything which resembles humanity.

BEARDSLEY: But keep them they did, all day under a scorching sun. Journalists were not allowed to go near the train and watched from the station platform. The migrants held handwritten signs out the windows that said, we want to go to Germany and chanted, no camp.

ABDEL MUNAN: My baby very sick.

BEARDSLEY: At one point, a desperate man got off the train, holding his tiny daughter in his arms. A Hungarian health care worker checked her swollen eyes. Abdel Munan, who's from Iraq, says his daughter was afflicted with whatever she has after two days in a Hungarian refugee camp. And he'd rather die than go back.

MUNAN: No camp, please. Camp - my baby. No camp. Kill me. Kill me.

BEARDSLEY: In Brussels Thursday, European officials debated over how to handle the tide of refugees pouring in. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the Muslim migrants from places like Syria were eroding Europe's Christian bedrock. He said he planned to send troops to block its southern border with Serbia, where the Hungarian government has already built a razor wire fence. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says every European country must respect the Geneva Conventions granting protection to refugees. And she said Germany will take in all Syrians.

In Bicske, the standoff with the migrant train continued into the night. Locals came out to watch. Thirty-year-old Alex Olah grew up here. He says the whole train scene is reminiscent of another era when people were herded onto trains and not told where they were going.

ALEX OLAH: I can tell you this is like long time ago in the Second World War when they order them to train - you go to work. You go to work, you know? And they don't go to work. They had to go to die, you know? And little bit similar - we go to Germany, and we don't go Germany. We go to camp. It's not correct.

BEARDSLEY: Activist Kakuk says the Bicske train shows Europe has no plan for the migrants and that the crisis threatens the peaceful, united Europe built on the ruins of World War II. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Bicske, Hungary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.