Austria's chancellor likens Hungarian PM refugee policies to Nazi deportations

Reuters , Saturday 12 Sep 2015

Migrants and refugees wait in Nickelsdorf, Austria at the border between Hungary and Austria, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. (AP Photo)

Austria's chancellor criticised Hungary for its handling of the refugee crisis on Saturday, likening the country's policies to Nazi deportations during the Holocaust as refugees complained of their treatment in the eastern European country.

Thousands of refugees are crossing the border to Hungary, an eastern outpost of Europe's passport-free Schengen zone, every day, and many are travelling on to the continent's more prosperous west and north in what is Europe's worst refugee crisis since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

Refugees continued to stream into Germany, favoured for its generous welfare system and relatively liberal asylum laws, on Saturday, with 3,600 arriving at Munich's main train station during the morning as authorities warned they might not be able to cope with an extra 6,800 that could arrive by the evening.

In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann likened Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's treatment of refugees to the Nazis' deportations of Jews and others to concentration camps.

"Sticking refugees in trains and sending them somewhere completely different to where they think they're going reminds us of the darkest chapter of our continent's history," he said.

On Sept. 3, migrants boarded a train in Budapest in the belief that they were heading to the border with Austria but the train was stopped 35 km (22 miles) west of the capital in the town of Bicske, where Hungary has a camp for asylum seekers.

Hungary dismissed Faymann's comments as "utterly unworthy of a 21st century European leader" and summoned Austria's ambassador.

Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said the Austrian chancellor had been pursuing a "campaign of lies" against Hungary for weeks that made it harder to find a common European solution to the crisis.

"They Put Us In Jails"

Many refugees and migrants now arriving in Hungary want to avoid being registered there for fear of being returned to Hungary later as they travel on to richer countries in western and northern Europe.

Saeed, a 25-year-old Syrian, was one of many refugees complaining about his treatment in Hungary. Speaking to Reuters in the Austrian border town of Nickelsdorf, he said he had spent the last six days in Hungary, where he was taken to five camps and had to sleep standing up in an overcrowded room.

"They put us in jails. We were there for a week, so little food, one of these little breads in the morning and one at night ... Everyone has a cold because there is no heating or anything there," he said.

"I escaped from Syria because I wasn't treated like a person, like a human being there and I came to Hungary and I was treated like an animal," he added.

On Friday, an online video emerged of crowds clamouring for food in a border camp as police in surgical masks tossed them packs of sandwiches. Police in Hungary said they had launched an investigation into the scenes.

Orban, a conservative populist always keen to undercut his main political rival, the far-right Jobbik party, has taken a tough stance during the crisis and told German newspaper Bild's Saturday edition that refugees should be sent back once Hungary closes its borders on Sept 15.

Asked where, he said: "Where they came from. These migrants are not coming to us from war zones but rather from camps in countries neighbouring Syria like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. They were safe there."

He said he would take a refugee family into his own home if he was sure this would not encourage others to come to Europe, adding that the continent would "perish" if it continued to take in millions of refugees.

Merkel Criticised

In Munich Christoph Hillenbrand, president of the Upper Bavarian government, said the city would likely be short of 5,000 emergency accommodation places by the evening and would not have enough places on buses and trains to send refugees on to other parts of the country.

Germany is expecting to take in around 800,000 refugees this year and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday that the country expected to receive 40,000 migrants this weekend.

But domestic tensions are rising, with politicians from across the spectrum accusing German Chancellor Angela Merkel of losing control of the refugee situation.

Merkel said economic migrants would not be able to stay and urged other countries to show more solidarity in the refugee crisis ahead of a meeting of EU interior ministers on Monday.

"This is not just Germany's responsibility - it's the responsibility of all EU member states," she said, adding that Greece needed to protect its border with non-EU member Turkey.

Far fewer people streamed across the border from Hungary to Austria in the early hours of Saturday than have done in recent days, a spokesman for the Austrian police said - 500 by mid-morning, compared with thousands previously.

But he expected several thousand were likely to try to cross the border over the weekend after 6,900 arrived on Friday.

Authorities reopened a stretch of motorway that was partially closed on Friday when dozens of migrants had set off for Vienna on foot from the border.

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