Hungarian police have stopped a train bound for towns near the Austrian border, sparking fears that the migrants and refugees on board were being made to go to a camp nearby.
The train had left Budapest’s Keleti (Eastern) station on Thursday morning, and was the first to depart after the end of a two-day police blockade that prompted up to 3,000 people trying to travel to western Europe to camp outside.
However the train, bound for Sopron near Hungary’s border with Austria, was halted by scores of riot police at the town of Bicske, an hour from Budapest, where one of Hungary’s four main refugee camps is located. Passengers deemed to be migrants were ordered to disembark. Some refused, instead banging on the windows shouting “No camp, no camp!”
TV news footage showed dozens of people lying on the train tracks to protest at being taken to the nearby refugee camp. One family – a man, his wife and their toddler – had to be wrestled off the ground by a dozen riot police, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene.It took a dozen riot police to get them up, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.
Other migrants caught in the train station underpass pushed back dozens of riot police blocking the top of the stairs to fight their way back on board the train, which remained stationary in high temperatures. Passengers reportedly had no access to water.
Earlier at Keleti station, bewildered and exhausted-looking families with young children, many of whom have been camped out for days in a makeshift refugee camp below the station, sought information about when they could travel. People were carrying luggage and fathers carried young children on their shoulders.
One would-be passenger, Waleed, 40, from Syria, said: “I have been travelling for 24 days. I paid 200,000 Syrian pounds (£695) to leave Syria. Why? Because I escaped from war, bombs, bullets. Why is there no train?”
A statement from Hungarian Railways (MAV) said: “In the interests of rail travel security the company has decided that until further notice, direct train services from Budapest to western Europe will not be in service.”
An MAV spokesman told state news agency MTI that “passengers wanting to travel to western Europe can only take trains leaving from the northern and western borders and with an external rail company”.
Police officers who remained at Keleti station expressed uncertainty over what would happen next. In answer to the question: “Does admitting migrants into the station mean that the train will depart soon, or are the police also unclear what to do in the coming hours?”, a police officer replied: “The second part of the sentence is correct.”
Muhammad, a 25-year-old university student from Damascus who left Syria a month ago, was among those experiencing the chaos at Keleti. “We don’t want to take the trains because we are worried they will catch us and take our fingerprints at the border,” he said.
Muhammad told the Guardian he lost everything except the clothes on his back on a journey that included three terrifying hours in the Mediterranean when the dingy he was travelling in between Greece and Turkey capsized.
He was robbed of most of his money by a human trafficker and now has only aticket to Germany that he can’t use. There is food for the families and kids, he said, tousling a young boy’s hair affectionately, but not much for the rest of us.
He did not want to give his last name for fear it could put family still in Syria at risk.
Many of the travellers are in family groups. Some kids are playing football on the platform but tempers are fraying in the heat and confusion and at least one young boy walked past in tears.
Keleti has become the focus of the migration crisis in Europe, as an estimated 3,000 people, mainly Syrian refugees, are camping in the underpass area in front of the station. Conditions have grown increasingly squalid despite the efforts of volunteers distributing water, food, medicine and disinfectants.
On Wednesday, the people camped outside Budapest station had threatened to walk the 105 miles (170km) to the Austrian border if police did not let them board trains to their desired destinations in Austria and Germany.
Hungary, which for months had permitted most applicants to head west after short bureaucratic delays, now says it won’t let more groups deeper into the European Union and claims EU backing for the move.
There was no immediate explanation from police or other authorities of Thursday’s decisions, which came hours before the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, was to meet EU leaders in Brussels to discuss the growing humanitarian crisis.
Hungary announced this week that it would deploy troops to its southern border with Serbia from 15 September. A €100m, four-metre-high razor wire fence has failed to stem the flow of people: 2,061 were apprehended at the border on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Bulgarian authorities have detained 125 foreigners in the capital, Sofia, for illegally crossing into the country without submitting an asylum request, the interior ministry said on Thursday. Georgi Kostov, secretary general of the interior ministry, said they would be questioned and their applications might be granted.