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Yearning for Germany

Max Hofmann, Budapest / dcSeptember 3, 2015

Police in Hungary are once again letting refugees board trains at the station in Budapest. But the trains heading out of the country are making unplanned stops before reaching the border. Max Hofmann reports.

Ungarn Budapest Ostbahnhof Flüchtlinge Zug
Image: DW/L. Scholtyssyk

The pressure is off, at least for a little while. The tense atmosphere surrounding Budapest's main train station on Wednesday evening has given way to careful optimism, after police began allowing refugees into the station again on Thursday morning.

At first though, most of the refugees were confused by the destinations on the board. Names like Sopron don't mean anything to them; they're looking for destinations such as Vienna or Munich. But under those cities comes the sentence: "All international connections have been canceled."

Despite this, a train on platform eight is crammed full, with people pushing into the aisles to fill every last bit of space. Many hope the train will take them where they want to go, because there are few phrases in German on the locomotive. The train is actually heading to Hungary's western border, and the city of Sopron. From there, it's only a few kilometers to Austria. It's at least going in the right direction, but despite this, many jump off at the last minute. They sense that something is up, and opt to wait for a train going directly to Germany, out of the now widely hated Hungary.

Sharifi is sitting with his family on the floor of the station. In his right arm, he holds his one-year-old daughter; with his left hand, he eats a meal of chicken and chips. The refugee from Afghanistan says it's his first proper meal in two days.

Ungarn Budapest Ostbahnhof Reisende
Trains left Budapest toward Austria but stopped before the borderImage: DW/L. Scholtyssyk

"Under the Taliban, the situation in Afghanistan was still more or less stable, but now with Islamic State…" he trails off, shaking his head. "We just couldn't take it anymore." He, too, is dreaming of Germany. After the last few unbearable days at the hands of the authorities in Budapest, it's become even more of a paradise in the minds of refugees here.

Families remain mistrustful

"There are lots of great people here among us," Sharifi says between bites. "Doctors, mechanics, all kinds of people. Please, Germany, let us in!" When asked why he didn't board the train for Sopron, he waves his hand. "We heard that the authorities plan to redirect the train to a camp outside of Budapest." A Hungarian woman standing nearby shakes her head. "Impossible," she says. "The Hungarian government is bad, but even they wouldn't do something like that."

The families with children are more careful than young people traveling on their own. They want more information, or a call from someone who managed to cross the border near Sopron. The smugglers who reacted to the new situation by organizing taxis and buses to drive refugees out of Budapest will also find a way to carry on their business in Sopron - if the trains leaving Budapest actually arrive at the border.

Ungarn Budapest Ostbahnhof Flüchtlinge Zug
The trains were packed with refugeesImage: DW/L. Scholtyssyk

Back and forth by the government

Many suspect a master plan behind the Hungarian government's back and forth. It announced plans to build more transit camps near the Serbian border. At the same time, it promised a refugee camp next to the train station in Budapest with room for 1,000 people. But there are already more than 3,000 living in inhumane conditions in the station's passageways. The refugees have become mistrustful of information they get from the Hungarian police and other authorities.

At around midday on Thursday, it became clear that they were right not to trust the information about the train supposedly heading to Sopron.

A Reuters reporter who was aboard the train confirmed that the police stopped it outside the capital and evacuated the refugees, directing them to a registration camp in Bicske. Many resisted, some even fled. Sharifi is not surprised. "See, what did I tell you?" he says.

He grabs his daughter and runs out of the station. "It's too dangerous here now," he says, looking back over his shoulder at the police officers with the red berets. The rest of the family is sitting next to a tent in front of the station. Now, they just have to wait for the train to Germany that they're all talking about. Some even believe the chancellor herself will send it to pick them up.