Scenes from the Great Migration: the Eastern Railway Station


Migrants from Afghanistan.

On this day there are only a few hundred migrants waiting for the next train to Austria in the pedestrian underpass outside the Eastern Railway Station in Budapest, about half the number as there were a few days ago. The majority of them still young men in their twenties, though more and more families with young children and elderly are among those whom state-run television and radio call “border violators” (határsértő).

Today: an extended Iraqi family, including a blind women in her 80s, the relatives of a man who claims to be a former government energy official; several women with babies just a few weeks old, almost certainly born on the road; a group of barefoot men who calmly ignore stern orders to “go, go away!” from the Migration Aid distribution point until they get shoes; a Pakistani migrant who gives an open-handed Hungarian beggar a few coins from his purse.

After this the tenth time here it is possible to estimate: 40-45 percent Syrian; 40-45 percent Afghan; 10-20 percent other, mostly Pakistanis and a rising number of Iraqis. Not long ago the migrants, whom those in Hungary who oppose the government’s anti-immigrant campaign call “refugees” (menekült), were eager to talk, though now they hardly want to say anything and often deflect photographs. Strength in numbers? Rising awareness of the officially instigated hostility toward them in this country of transit?

Still the atmosphere here at the railway station is almost festive: children play with their donated toys, balls roll among people resting on blankets, young men play volleyball without a net. Among the many tense and tired faces there are more relaxed smiles here than one would imagine. A burly Hungarian with tattoos, including one of Winnie-the-Pooh on his calf, distributes relief donations. He has been here since the beginning, every single day,  working without pay to help these people.

The government presence is limited to a couple of National Emergency Service workers who mill through the crowd, one of them holding a large movie camera. Otherwise only end-of-Hungary, end-of-Europe, end-of-the-world incitement. And the 175-kilometer razor-wire fence going up along the entire length of the Hungarian-Serbian border. But none of this is going to stop this Great Migration, which is now bringing nearly 2,000 people a day to Hungary (and on to western Europe).

Something has got to give. Something is going to happen. And soon.

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Last updated: August 16, 2015.