Thousands of refugees and migrants remained stranded at Budapest’s main international railway station as Hungarian authorities stuck to European Union rules and prevented them from leaving for Germany and other countries in western Europe.
About 3,000 people were camped at the Keleti station in the Hungarian capital early on Wednesday, many sleeping outside the main entrance guarded by police, who said citizen patrols were assisting them in keeping order.
Hundreds of refugees and migrants protested in front of the station on Wednesday, shouting: “Freedom, freedom” and demanding to be let on to trains bound for Germany, but it remained closed to them.
Volunteer groups accustomed to providing food, clothing and medical assistance to a few hundred people at a time struggled with the large number of people staying in every corner of the station’s sunken plaza.
Hungarian authorities closed the station to refugees and migrants following chaotic scenes on Monday, when people who had been camped outside for weeks were suddenly allowed to leave for Austria and Germany without visa checks.
The closure of the station to refugees and migrants appeared prompted in part by pressure from other EU countries trying to cope with arrivals from Hungary.
More than 150,000 refugees and migrants have reached Hungary this year, most coming through the southern border with Serbia.
Refugees outside the station on Tuesday complained they had bought tickets believing they would be able to travel onto Germany.
The Schengen agreement requires refugees to seek asylum in the first country they enter under the EU’s Dublin accord, but last week Berlin said it had suspended the requirement for Syrians, who would now be permitted to stay in Germany and apply for refugee status.
The move has angered Hungary, which said it would encourage more migrants to make the journey to Europe.
“Why have they sold us return tickets? We are refugees, we are one-way,” said Mohammed, who had travelled from Damascus with his uncle and cousins. “These people are thieves.”
Rafir Kozma, 30, from Syria, said: “I came here and they bought a ticket for three people to Munich It was €370.20. My train was at 7am this morning and the police didn’t let me into the station, and after you see what happened
Asked if Hungary would again let migrants board trains to Germany as it did on Monday, a spokesman for the government said it would observe European Union rules.
“In the territory of the EU, illegal migrants can travel onwards only with valid documents and observing EU rules,” he said. “A train ticket does not overwrite EU rules.”
Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, led by the populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has taken a tough stance against refugees and migrants and constructed a fence along the country’s border with Serbia, the entry point for the majority.
A pro-refugee demonstration is to be held in Budapest on Wednesday evening by the group Migration Aid, which accuses the governnment of “demonising certain groups of people to generate fear and justify security measures.”
Orbán is scheduled to meet EU leaders on Thursday to discuss his country’s handling of refugee arrivals into Europe.