Thousands Arrive At Austrian Border, Bused Through Hungary
Thousands of migrants, many fleeing war and poverty in Syria and Iraq, are traveling through Hungary to Austria and Germany. European leaders are struggling to cope with the humanitarian crisis. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with Magdalena Majkowska-Tomkin of the International Organization for Migration.
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Applause at Munich's main train station as thousands of exhausted migrants arrived there today; individuals and families fleeing desperate situations in countries like Syria and Iraq. It's been a long journey through Eastern Europe. Earlier this week, Hungarian officials temporarily stopped train service to Austria, and thousands of people continued on foot. Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Szijjarto spoke to journalists this morning.
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PETER SZIJJARTO: They started to march at the most important highway so an emergency situation has occurred. That's why we have decided to send buses and then deliver them to the Austrian border - where they wanted to go.
RATH: But the Hungarian government says it will not provide any more buses, leaving thousands more in limbo. Earlier, I spoke with Magdalena Majkowska-Tomkin. She's the chief of Mission and Hungry for the International Organization for Migration.
MAGDALENA MAJKOWSKA-TOMKIN: This is a completely unprecedented situation. We have never seen anything like this in recent years. This week has been the most tense and difficult, so it is very much a unique situation.
RATH: What's your best estimation of how many people are there now - how many of these migrants?
MAJKOWSKA-TOMKIN: Well, at this point in time, every day approximately 3,000 people are crossing the Hungarian-Serbian border. After which, they are supposed to make their way to the designated refugee centers in Hungary. But a vast majority choose to continue west in the direction of the Austrian border. What we know at this point is that Germany, essentially, will not be carrying out so-called Dublin returns for Syrians. That means that they will examine all asylum claims in Germany, rather than sending refugees back to Hungary. And we know also that Austrian authorities, Czech and Slovak authorities also said that they would essentially allow all refugees through, and they will not control them. They will not register them. They will not try to stop them.
RATH: And for the migrants who have stopped, or who have been stopped in Hungary, could you talk about the kind of conditions that they're living in?
MAJKOWSKA-TOMKIN: There are approximately 4,000 to 5,000 migrants in refugee centers. Different kinds of facilities - some are open, some are closed. There are only 2,500 spaces in these facilities. So the system is completely unprepared for such an unprecedented flow. And already, these centers are bursting in seams and are quite problematic as far as basic services are concerned.
RATH: Our own reporter Eleanor Beardsley spoke to one man in Hungary whose infant daughter had gotten severely ill at one of the camps.
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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: At one point, a desperate man got off the train holding his tiny daughter in his arms. A Hungarian healthcare worker checked her swollen eyes. Abdal Munaan (ph), who's from Iraq, says his daughter was afflicted with what ever she has after two days in a Hungarian refugee camp, and he'd rather die than go back.
ABDAL MUNAAN: No camp please. My baby. But no camp. Kill me, kill me.
RATH: Would you say these camps are up to international standards?
MAJKOWSKA-TOMKIN: Well, at this point, I would say it may very well be that they are not. People are living in corridors, they have to share rooms, they have to wait in large queues for showers. The food, according to their own accounts, is not sufficient and not of good quality. This is what we hear from migrants and some refugees. So it is very much a system under strain, and it's very possible that the conditions in some of the camps will be very much unsanitary.
RATH: Your group helps governments deal with migration all over the region. Do you have enough resources to deal with this crisis?
MAJKOWSKA-TOMKIN: That is a very good question. And in fact, our own structure and how we operate makes us very much dependent on donor funding. And there's a number of NGOs and agencies including IOM that have, in fact, had to suspend their operations because we do not have enough funds to continue, even our usual operations - let alone any increased assistance to migrants who arrive. And as a result, most of the help given to migrants was, in fact, based on volunteer effort. Now, we hope that, that should change in the weeks. Of course, it is very difficult to give assistance to people who are very intent to move on. But we hope to open a number of projects in the coming weeks.
RATH: Magdalena Majkowska-Tomkin is the chief of Mission and Hungry at the International Organization for Migration. Magdalena, thanks very much.
MAJKOWSKA-TOMKIN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.