Refugees barred from Hungarian rail hub

Hundreds of migrants were left stranded outside Budapest's main railway station on Wednesday after being barred from travelling to Germany by police, as new figures highlighted the massive scale of Europe's refugee crisis.

Refugees barred from Hungarian rail hub
Syrian refugees waiting outside Budapest's main railway station. Photo: Youtube video screenshot

Europe is facing the largest movement of people since World War II, which has seen more than 350,000 make the perilous journey across the Mediterranean this year, fresh figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) showed.

Countries on Europe's eastern borders have also been struggling to cope, and fresh chaos erupted on Tuesday as police cleared and briefly shut Budapest's Keleti station a day after thousands of migrants boarded trains for Germany and Austria.

Outside Keleti station, around 500 mainly Syrian migrants, blocked from the entrance by a police line, chanted “Germany! Germany! Hungary, let us go!”

Some held placards calling for the UN to step in, while a protester hoisted on another's shoulders held up a Germany football shirt to cheers.

The police continued to hold them back, though, and by midnight the tension had eased, with most of the migrants retreating to a nearby makeshift refugee shelter to sleep, many vowing to return to the station entrance in the morning.

“What else can I do,” Ahmad Orabi, a 25 year-old Syrian from Homs, told AFP. “I've come so far, I can't give up now.”

The ban was enforced just 24 hours after police had unexpectedly allowed people stuck for days in camps to leave Budapest, with hundreds surging onto trains bound for Germany and Austria, despite many not having EU visas.

This saw the highest number of migrants entering Austria in a single day this year, with police saying 3,650 arrived in Vienna by train on Monday.   

Many continued on to Germany, which last week eased asylum restrictions for Syrian refugees, where police said a record 3,500 asylum-seekers had turned up in Bavaria on Tuesday. Sweden also said the number of asylum requests there was nearing historic levels.

 'Time is running out'

The latest flashpoint, one of several recent standoffs at borders and transport hubs across the continent, came as the IOM published new figures revealing the scale of Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War II.

Out of the 350,000 arrivals by sea so far this year, 234,770 alone were in Greece — more than the Europe-wide total for all of 2014. At least 2,600 died trying to reach Europe, either by drowning or suffocating in packed or unseaworthy boats, the agency said.

Stories of refugees dying in horrific conditions crammed inside lorries have piled the pressure on the EU, which has scheduled emergency talks for September 14.

The crisis has stoked friction in the 28-member bloc over helping to share the burden of “frontline” nations where the migrants arrive by sea or land, and about where those who are granted asylum will be settled.

The influx is Europe's “greatest challenge”, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Tuesday during talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country expects to accept a record 800,000 migrants this year.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said “time is running out” to tackle the crisis at European level, while European Council President Donald Tusk said the priority for leaders must be “to prevent migrants from losing their lives trying to reach Europe”.

'Prison cell on wheels'

Their comments came as hundreds of Eurostar passengers were left stranded in the dark on Wednesday morning after “intruders” made their way onto the tracks, in the latest disruption to the cross-Channel service by suspected migrants trying to reach Britain.

Much-flouted EU rules, known as the Dublin regulation, say refugees should be processed in the first country they reach but the human tide is so great that this system is now badly under strain.

Hungary, where 50,000 migrants arrived in August, insists it cannot cope and has built a razor-wire fence along its border with Serbia, drawing criticism from France and Austria.

In Slovakia, meanwhile, police stopped several hundred far-right protestors from entering the village of Gabcikovo, south of Bratislava, which is due to host around 500 migrants after a deal with their current host Austria.

Another anti-migrant protest took place in the city of Trnava, northwest of the capital.

The migrants' plight was brought sharply into focus last week after 71 people, including four children, were found dead in an abandoned truck on an Austrian motorway near the Hungarian border. Police in Hungary and Bulgaria have made six arrests.

Austrian police said on Tuesday they had rescued 24 young Afghan migrants, most aged around 16 or 17, crammed inside a van that was like a “prison cell on wheels”. “They had been packed into this dangerous vehicle like objects,” a spokesman told AFP.

The EU's Frontex border agency said a brisk trade in fake Syrian passports had emerged, mostly in Turkey, as migrants knew escapees from the war-torn country were given preferential treatment.


MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Austria's recent Migration & Integration report paints a detailed picture of who are the immigrants in the country, where they come from, the languages they speak at home and more.

MAP: Who are the foreigners in Austria?

More than a quarter of Austria’s population has a “migration background”, which, according to the statistics institute Statistik Austria, means that they have parents who both were born abroad, regardless of their own nationality or place of birth.

Though migration is a controversial topic for some, Statistik Austria made it clear that if not for it, the country would simply stop growing.

“Austria’s population is growing solely due to immigration. Without it, according to the population forecast, the number of inhabitants would fall back to the level of the 1950s in the long term”, says Statistik Austria’s director general Tobias Thomas.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Who are the foreigners in Austria?

Not every person with a migration background is considered a foreigner, though. Many of them have parents who were born abroad but naturalised Austrians before having children, or they themselves became Austrian citizens later on.

This is why despite 25.4 percent of the population having a “migration background”, the number of people with foreign nationalities is slightly lower at 17.7 percent.

So, who are these people? 

German is still the most common nationality among foreigners in Austria (218,347 people). But much had changed since 2015 (when there were 170,475 Germans).

The number of Romanians has almost doubled (from 73,374 to 140,454), bringing them to the second-largest foreigner community in Austria, behind German citizens.

In 2015, Turkish was the second-largest foreign nationality in Austria (there were 115,433), but they are now the fourth (with 117,944 people), behind German, Romanian, and Serbians (121,643).

They are helping Austria get younger

In Austria, most people without a migration background (36.2 percent) are between 40 to 64 years old. The share is also quite large among those with 65 or more years, reaching 21.8 percent.

When it comes to people with a migration background, most are between 40 to 64 years old (34.4 percent), followed closely by the 20 to 39-year-olds (33.5 percent), and then the children and adolescents until 19 years of age (22 percent). Only 10.2 percent of the people with a migration background are older than 65.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Regarding nationalities, Austrians have an average age of 44.8, followed by Germans, who average 41.1. The youngest populations are the Afghani living in Austria (24.9 years old on average) and the Syrians (26.3).

Immigration helps keep the Austrian population younger. (Photo by Huy Phan on Unsplash)

Language and education

People with a migration background living in Austria have a different educational profile than the population without a migration background, according to the Statistik Austria data.

They are more often represented in the lowest and highest educational segments and less often in the middle-skilled segment than the population without a migration background.

However, the educational level of immigrants is improving over time, on the one hand, due to increasing internal migration, also of higher educated people within the EU. On the other hand, as a result of the selective immigration policy toward third-country nationals by the Red-White-Red Card, the institution said.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

In 2021, 19.4 percent of the Austrian population had higher education, such as a university degree, and 10.9 percent had only mandatory primary schooling. Regarding foreigners, 29 percent had university-level education and 25.1 percent had completed only their primary school years.

When it comes to children and the language they speak, German was the first language of about 72 percent of the four and 5-year-old children in elementary educational institutions in Austria.

READ ALSO: Austria ranked world’s ‘second least friendly country’

With just under six percent each, Turkish and Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BKS) were the most common non-German first languages. Around two percent each spoke Romanian, Arabic or Albanian, followed by Hungarian (one percent).

Less than one percent each for Persian, Polish, Slovakian, English, Russian and Kurdish, respectively, as the first languages. Languages other than those mentioned were spoken by slightly more than five percent.

And who is naturalising Austrian?

Not all foreigners become Austrian, even if they have been in the country for decades. One of the reasons is that the process is expensive, but also because it requires applicants to give up their previous citizenship – something many are unwilling to do.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

According to the report, in 2021, most foreign citizens who naturalised Austrian were from Turkey originally (1,100), followed by Bosnia (921), Serbia (782), Afghanistan (545), and Syria (543).

More than one-third of the people naturalising Austrian last year were already born in Austria, and most of the naturalisations were of young people between 20 and 40 years old.