Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Refugee crisis: Hundreds of volunteers join convoy to take asylum seekers from Hungary to Austria as train stalemate continues

Almost 2,000 people have signed up to be part of the convoy departing from Vienna on Sunday to collect refugees from Budapest

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 04 September 2015 11:05 BST
Migrants stopped in Hungary

Almost 2,000 people are preparing to drive more than 300 miles to take refugees stranded in Hungary to Vienna in a huge convoy of cars, taxis and buses.

Campaigners decided to take matters in their own hands as authorities continued to prevent hundreds of men, women and children from getting trains to Germany and Austria.

More than 1,900 people had joined the Convoy Budapest-Vienna event on Facebook by Friday morning to take part in the “rail replacement operation for refugees”.

The first convoy will depart from the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna on Sunday morning and drive the 150 miles across the border with Hungary to pick refugees up in Budapest and take them back.

Organisers Erzsébet Szabó and Elisabeth Schneider wrote on Facebook that they had to intervene after watching the Hungarian government deny refugees safe train travel and force them to endure “appalling conditions” in Budapest for days.

As well as individual drivers, they are urging charities, humanitarian organisations, bus operators and taxi companies to join the drive.

Organisers are hoping their action will prevent tragedies like the deaths of 71 asylum seekers whose bodies were found crammed in an abandoned lorry in Austria.

71 men, women and children were found dead in this lorry near Neusiedl am See, Austria (Getty Images)

“We call upon the Austrian government to obtain the re-opening of the railway station in Hungary, so that refugees can travel safely with the Austrian Federal Railways,” Ms Szabó and Ms Schneider wrote in a statement.

“Our relief operation is the only effective way to prevent more deaths in trucks at the moment.

“We urgently ask political leaders not to impede the process of this action, which seems to be the only right thing to do at the moment: spare no effort to save lives!”

Organisers said that although the effort might sound "reckless", they are in close contact with initiatives in Hungary, Austria and Germany and will have safety procedures in place, as well as legal assistance on the journey.

Hungarian authorities blocked refugees from accessing the main train station in Budapest for two days earlier this week, claiming they were enforcing EU immigration and border control laws.

Hundreds of those with valid tickets were finally allowed to board a train they believed was heading to Austria and Germany yesterday but were stopped at a Hungarian town part-way through the journey.

Police halted the train in Bicske, which houses a camp for asylum seekers, demanding that passengers register their applications there before they can legally travel on to other Schengen-area countries.

But only a handful of refugees have complied so far, fearful of being kept in Hungary rather than the countries they want to settle in.

Hungarian policemen seizing a refugee family resisting being sent to a camp in Bicske (Reuters)

The head of police border control, Colonel Laszlo Balazs, said 16 people voluntarily checked into the asylum centre yesterday, while about 500 others refused.

As dawn broke this morning, cries of “No camp, freedom!” rang out as dozens of riot police looked on.

On the side of the train, someone had written “No camp. No Hungary. Freedom train” with shaving foam.

Officials had brought food and water to the migrants, some of whom refused, and sanitary conditions were deteriorating.

“We don't know what's going on,” said Ahmed Mahmoud, 60, who said he was a former Iraqi military officer who had lost both legs and was trying to join his daughter in Belgium.

“The police told us, get fingerprinted or face jail time. So we gave our fingerprints and they told us we can go. But we can't go to the west. I just want to see my child in Belgium.”

A family is arrested by local police after their train from Budapest and heading to the Austrian border was stopped

Asylum seekers who had attempted to board local trains away from Budapest were also detained.

In Geneva, the head of the UN’s refugee agency called for the EU to take “urgent and courageous measures” to deal with the crisis.

Angela Merkel has been a key voice in calling for Europe to accept quotas so all nations take their “fair share” but several nations are resisting.

The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, yesterday claimed that the crisis was a “problem for Germany” as he prepared to send soldiers to his country’s border with Serbia, where a 100-mile fence is already being built to keep refugees out.

This newspaper has started a campaign for the UK to welcome a fair share of refugees.

Click here to sign The Independent's petition

Additional reporting by Reuters

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in