Austria to close borders to refugees again after 12,000 arrive from Hungary in just 48 hours

The Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, says emergency measures will be lifted

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The Independent Online

The Austrian chancellor has indicated that the country could begin closing its borders again after two days of unprecedented refugee arrivals from eastern Europe.

Werner Faymann said that emergency measures agreed by Austria and Germany to accept large numbers of refugees from Hungary should be lifted “gradually”.

Bavarian state officials have said that a total of 6,800 refugees entered Germany via Austria on Saturday, with another 5,000 expected on Sunday.

In a statement following what he described as “intensive talks” with Germany’s Angela Merkel and a telephone call with the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, Mr Faymann said: “We have always said this is an emergency situation in which we must act quickly and humanely.

“We have helped more than 12,000 people in an acute situation. Now we have to move step by step away from emergency measures towards normality in conformity with the law and dignity.”

Around 700 who were able to get on board two trains to Munich were welcomed early on Sunday by a dozen or so volunteers handing out chocolate. More were expected later, a regional official said, and most were given medical checks before being taken to reception centres.

Cars of Austrian volunteers willing to transport refugees to Austria enter Hungary at the former border station of Hegyeshalom (EPA)

Refugees arrive at the train station in Salzburg, Austria, with many of them journeying onwards to Germany (EPA)

Many more crossed the border by other means, and the Hungarian government put on around 100 buses to help get people to the Austrian border. A convoy of around 140 cars and vans filled with food and water left Vienna on Sunday to provide for the column of marchers, and collect those less able to walk.

Munich’s mayor, Dieter Reiter, said on Sunday that he was not worried about the numbers arriving in the city – only “how can we give them a feeling that they are safe here”.

But even in a city which has been among those most praised for its positive reaction to the influx of refugees, concerns were being raised.

Simone Hilgers, a spokesperson for the authorities in Upper Bavaria, Germany’s largest state, told the Associated Press: “Munich and Bavaria can't manage it alone. [We] need the support pledged by other [German] states.”

Germany alone expects to receive 800,000 refugees by the end of 2015 – roughly 1 per cent of its population, and by far the greatest contribution to the crisis from any EU member state.

The numbers arriving in Europe are nonetheless a relatively small proportion of the four million estimated to have fled Syria since its civil war began in 2011, amid warnings that millions more could be displaced.

On Sunday, Pope Francis said that the Vatican would do its bit, taking in two families of refugees – a similar commitment to Germany’s considering the city-state’s tiny number of citizens. He urged “every parish, every religious community” across Europe to do the same.