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Trains resume between Austria and Germany

September 14, 2015

Rail services have resumed between Austria and Germany after all trains were stopped overnight. Berlin has reintroduced border controls to stem the tide of thousands of refugees streaming across its frontier.

Train platform at Vienna's main station
Image: Reuters/H.-P. Bader

There was heavy traffic banked up on major highways connecting Austria and Germany on Monday after temporary border checks were imposed at the border.

A spokesman for Deutsche Bahn said most train services between the two countries resumed at 7 a.m. local time (0500 UTC) after a 12-hour stoppage. There were some initial delays on the Salzburg-Munich route following reports of people blocking the tracks.

The German government ordered police to begin checking travel documents Sunday from anyone entering from the southern frontier with Austria, where migrant arrivals have soared since Chancellor Angela Merkel effectively opened German borders to refugees a week ago.

"The aim of these measures is to limit the current inflows to Germany and to return to orderly procedures when people enter the country," German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. "This is also urgently necessary for security reasons."

Border controls at the German-Austrian border
German Police check passports Sunday evening along the border with AustriaImage: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Puchner

Emergency talks

Berlin has become increasingly frustrated with the reluctance of many within the 28-nation European Union - especially those in the former Eastern bloc - to share the burden of hosting refugees.

At an emergency meeting scheduled for Monday in Brussels, EU interior ministers will discuss a proposal from the bloc's executive Commission to redistribute about 160,000 asylum seekers across member states.

Germany is a preferred destination for many people fleeing Syria's civil war and other troubled nations in the migration crisis. A spokeswoman for the southern state of Bavaria told local media more than 19,000 refugees had arrived by rail in Munich over the weekend.

Germany's interior ministry has not specified how long the border controls would remain in place or how exactly incoming migrants would be handled, saying only that Germany will continue to observe national and European rules on protecting refugees.

United Nations human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein on Monday urged Europe to implement "expanded channels of regular migration and resettlement" to curb people smugglers and prevent migrant deaths.

About 450,000 migrants have entered Germany so far this year and a total of at least 800,000 are expected this year - by far the most in the EU.

Infografik Die Staaten des Schengener Abkommens Englisch Stand September 2015

'Hungary a place of humiliation'

Meanwhile in Hungary, refugees continue to stream in from Serbia in an attempt to make it into the EU before the border fence is completed and Hungarian soldiers seal the border on Tuesday.

Hungarian police said nearly 6,000 migrants entered the country in a record surge on Sunday ahead of harsh new immigration laws due to come into force this week. The Hungarian parliament has empowered courts to imprison anyone convicted of illegally crossing the border. And the Hungarian army engineers spent Sunday expanding the country's planned 174-kilometer (109-mile) border fence with Serbia and crowning it with coils of razor wire.

Refugees who are barred from crossing face a mammoth detour around Hungary to Croatia or Romania.

"Hungary has become a place of humiliation and suffering for these asylum seekers," Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch told AFP. "They have come from war zones. They're not just going to turn around because there's a fence, and we can't build fences all around Europe."

Former Eastern bloc countries follow suit

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka - whose country is one of those that has resisted accepting refugees under an EU resettlement plan - said Sunday that an increased police presence on the Austrian border was in reaction to Germany's decision.

Berlin's move was also welcomed by Hungary's hardline Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has made statements against refugees - especially Muslims - being a threat to Europe.

"We understand that this decision was necessary in order to defend Germany's and Europe's values," he told Germany's "Bild" newspaper.

Refugees wait at Vienna train station
Many refugees entering Germany arrive by trainImage: DW/A. Langley

Europe a continent divided over crisis

Germany's decision has been a blow to the passport-free travel enshrined in the Schengen Treaty and a landmark achievement in European integration. Under the treaty passport controls can be re-introduced, provided they are only temporary.

"The free movement of people under Schengen is a unique symbol of European integration," the EU Commission said in a statement. "However, the other side of the coin is a better joint management of our external borders and more solidarity in coping with the refugee crisis."

EU envoys meeting on Sunday evening in Brussels failed to break the deadlock, with some eastern states still refusing to accept binding quotas of refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Amid the bickering among European nations, the crisis claimed yet more lives. Some 34 refugees, almost half of them babies and children, drowned off a Greek island when their boat sank, the Greek coastguard said Sunday.

The latest sea tragedy has not daunted refugees desperate to cross. In the space of 90 minutes, a news photographer saw 10 dinghies packed with refugees arriving from Turkey on the Greek island of Lesbos, Reuters news agency reported.

Further up the refugee route, 8,500 migrants entered Macedonia from Greece between Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, the UNHCR said.

nm/rg (AFP, dpa)