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Central Europe gives up on holding refugees back from Austria – The Guardian

The countries of central Europe suspended their resistance this weekend to Europe’s largest refugee exodus since the second world war, as Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia all shunted tens of thousands of people towards Austria, reversing most recent attempts to block their passage.

At least 15,000 refugees mainly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq were funnelled from Croatia into Hungary and then onwards to Austria over the weekend, the Austrian news agency APA said, after Hungary temporarily gave up trying to stop refugees from crossing its border. Another 2,500 have crossed from Croatia into Slovenia, despite Slovenia initially trying to block their passage.

The moves represent a volte-face from both countries – and in particular from Hungary. The Budapest government had previously tried to stop the entry of undocumented travellers by building a fence along its southern border with Serbia, and by posting military vehicles on its western border with Croatia.

But by Sunday, its resistance was mostly rhetorical. The country admitted thousands of refugees over the weekend from Croatia, whose shared border is not yet blocked by a fence, even as foreign minister Péter Szijjártó promised tougher measures in the future. Szijjártó said: “We are a state that is more than 1,000 years old that throughout its history has had to defend not only itself, but Europe as well many times. That’s the way it’s going to be now.”

Thousands more continued to enter Europe on Saturday and Sunday at the other end of the refugee route in the Greek islands, where coastguards said that 24 people were feared to have drowned on Sunday. An inflatable refugee boat, attempting to reach Lesbos from the Turkish shoreline, capsized before it reached its destination, and only 22 out of 46 passengers were rescued.

The number of migrant shipwrecks in the Aegean has increased in recent days, with Sunday’s incident the sixth in a week of accidents that have left around 100 dead. For many of the survivors, the trauma has not ended with their rescue: it emerged on Sunday that more than 200 Syrians and Iraqis saved by the Turkish coastguard following the sinking of their ship near Kos had allegedly been threatened with deportation back to the war zones they had just fled.

One Syrian survivor, who asked not to be named as she is still in detention, said in a voice message: “They are threatening us that Syrians will be deported to Syria, Iraqis to Iraq. If they send us back to Syria we will die.” The Turkish government has denied any Syrians will be deported.

The autumnal weather will make the sea crossing more dangerous, but Syrians making their way through the Balkans at the moment said their friends and relatives still hoped to follow in their footsteps despite the rising danger.

Nowar el-Debiat, a 31-year-old communications engineer from Syria, said: “The level will be lower because the sea is not good, and maybe the fact that Hungary has closed its borders will put people off. But after five years of war in my country, people cannot bear the situation and so those who used to not think of emigration are now thinking about it. So in October the migration will continue.”

Amid the chaos, there were stronger calls for European countries to respond to the crisis on a collective basis, rather than as individual countries acting in their own self-interests. Michael Diedring, the secretary general of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles, a union of 87 European non-governmental organisations, said: “EU states need to stop doing what they are currently doing, which is making decisions for their own benefit.”

He added: “There’s so much pressure at the moment that no single state is going to be able to survive [by acting on their own]. Even Germany.”

Central Europe gives up on holding refugees back from Austria – The Guardian

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