In a move signaling greater openness and understanding of the current migrant crisis plaguing much of Europe and the Middle East, officials from Austria and Germany agreed to allow refugees to be bussed across their borders from neighboring Hungary on Friday. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, the decision was reached after allegations of mistreatment by Hungarian border control units first surfaced this week, although Hungarian authorities flatly denied the claims, saying that they had been supplying migrants with food, water, diapers, and chocolate for the children. Earlier in the day, a group of around 1,000 refugees who had been denied access to trains headed to Western Europe and kept under watch for days fled police stationed in Budapest, marching all the way to the country's western border on foot.
After finally crossing unexpectedly into Austria on Friday evening, the refugees were flagged down by border authorities, but believing them to be Hungarian officials, many of the migrants turned and ran.
"They were headed for Vienna, guided only by the map on his phone," The Journal reported one officer as saying. Because of the language barrier, it took a few minutes before the officers were able to communicate to the refugees that they were, indeed, safe. According to the paper, one elderly man offered up money, thinking that he needed to pay a fee to stay. "No, no need for money here," explained the officer.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann took to Facebook on Friday evening to post an official statement about the decision, promising that he and his fellow officials would do everything in their power to allow for a smooth transition for refugees.
"On the basis of the current situation of need, Austria and Germany agree to allow in this case the onward journey of these refugees into their countries," added Faymann. "... Asylum is a human right, and the Geneva Convention on human rights of all the states of the EU [is] to be respected."
The remainder of the refugees who had opted not to flee on foot with the thousand or so picked up on Friday had been living under dilapidated conditions inside a camp near Budapest's main train station, The New York Times reported. By Friday evening, thousands of them were finally loaded safely onto 40 buses headed toward the Austrian border.
According to a report by CNN, many in the group that departed on foot earlier in the day told journalists that they were prepared to walk all the way to Germany rather than wait any longer for the government to decide their fate.
"Utterly exhausted after 9hr hike on highway...#refugees finally on bus heading towards #austria border," tweeted CNN's Arwa Damon on Friday. The correspondent also reported that several Hungarian civilians were busying themselves, doing what they could to help the weary migrants. "[Hungarian] woman handing out food 2 #refugees walking on highway 2 #austria tear[ed] up," tweeted Damon.
The current migrant crisis has been dubbed the worst since World War II, with some 12 million Syrians and three million Iraqis displaced since 2011. Adding to the overall panic in June, Hungarian officials announced that they would be building a wall to keep the borders closed off to refugees, a move that the UN called "deeply concern[ing]." Said Cécile Pouilly, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in a statement that month,
We have noted in the past the need for European governments to display leadership and compassion in their migration policies. ... If adopted, this measure may prevent asylum seekers, who may be in need of international protection, from accessing Hungarian territory.