BRUSSELS — Overwhelmed by thousands of asylum-seekers, Hungarian authorities Tuesday briefly halted rail traffic from their nation’s main train station, the latest blow to a borderless movement in Europe.
Police authorities triggered chaos when they shuttered Budapest’s grand fin-de-siecle train station for hours on Tuesday, stopping rail traffic for all passengers while they worked to clear crowds of hundreds of migrants who had gathered at the station. The move prompted angry chanting from asylum-seekers desperate to move onward to Austria and Germany, many of whom had already purchased tickets for hundreds of euros.
The abolition of border controls between European Union nations has been a central pillar of European leaders’ dreams of stitching together a continent of common values and interconnected economies. But in just weeks, the mounting migration crisis has begun to erode a system that took decades to build.
The asylum-seekers, many of whom are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, hope to make it onward to Germany, which has promised shelter and sustenance for Syrians. By midday in Budapest, the train station had been reopened, but migrants were being kept out of it, prompting furious demonstrations outside the terminal.
“We are among the few who are actually taking genuine measures” to enforce border controls, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Tuesday, in a statement on his Web site.
Austria has also significantly increased inspections of vehicles crossing the border from Hungary since Sunday, causing backups of trucks that stretched for miles, another sign of the fast-mounting barriers between nations that years ago closed their border checkpoints. Hungarian authorities on Monday had allowed thousands of migrants to board trains to Austria, prompting complaints from Austrian leaders.
“Just allowing them to board in Budapest . . . and watching as they are taken to your neighbor, that’s not politics,” said Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann in an interview with the state broadcaster ORF.
There are no signs the crisis is abating. Greece’s coast guard said Tuesday that it had rescued 1,192 migrants and refugees from Monday to Tuesday near eastern Greek islands that are close to the Turkish coast. That was a significantly higher figure than in recent weeks. From Greece, migrants try to move northward through the Balkans, to Hungary and onward to Western Europe.
Germany is taking the lion’s share of refugees — an estimated 800,000 this year alone.
Faiola reported from Berlin. Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin contributed to this report.