ROSZKE, HUNGARY — Down the rusty train tracks littered with crushed water bottles and candy bar wrappers, a mass of red and orange hats emerged from the distance. Ari Kiro, dressed in a sleeveless green T-shirt and white sweatpants, marched in the shallow grass beside them, a whistle in his mouth. He blew. They all stopped.
Kiro counted the children: 11. He counted the adults: 34. Forty-five in all — extended family and some new friends — marching together to seek asylum from the war in Syria.
Their past was another land, but they had no idea where their future would be. What they had known, back in Syria — in Aleppo, where most of them were from — was that colder weather and choppier waters were coming, and that the Hungarian prime minister was seeking to seal off this border with Serbia as early as Sept. 15. Not quite two weeks ago, they made a decision thousands in the Middle East are making, to run for the border, while it is still possible.
The family elected Kiro, a masseur, to lead the way. They picked up their new friends in Turkey.
“We thought it would be easier if we all worked together,” said Mohamed Ismael, 30, a pharmacist. “Macedonia was the hardest. Two days without food and water. We had to walk in the dark.”
“We crossed that river,” added a woman clad in a headscarf and a straw hat, age lines creasing her 65-year-old face. She shook her head. “We’re so tired.”
Ismael held her hand and said, “We’ll keep going, Mom.”
Over the past month, the daily averages of people crossing into Hungary have edged up from 2,000 to more than 3,000, according to the officials from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. On Wednesday, there were Syrians and Afghans. Iraqis. Nigerians. Some 42,000 are expected to cut holes through fences and cross train tracks over the next 10 days, the U.N. refugee agency said, escaping what officials called a crisis at home and entering into another crisis abroad.
Kiro blew the whistle again. He wanted Ismael’s mother in the front of the line, then the small children behind her. Then the women. “Two by two,” he ordered in Arabic, walking the line. The afternoon heat beat down.
“Where are we?” asked Ibrahim Abdo, 30, a chef and a bartender. When Abdo learned that they had reached Hungary, he smiled. “What happens next?”
In front of them were full buses, some tents and a handful of police officers who had developed a reputation for being overly aggressive in a country that did not want to shelter Muslim migrants.
Kiro looked ahead and shrugged, “I don’t know.”
Then he blew his whistle. It was time for them to walk past the police.
Until last week, this area near the border was a quick stop before migrants were dispatched to a fenced-in camp a 20-minute walk away. There, they would get processed and put on a bus to Budapest and then, ideally, to a country that was willing to help, such as Germany or Sweden. That camp became so full that the Hungarian government set up a second. And since that one filled up, refugees have had to wait near this checkpoint.
The influx into the country had become so great and the flow out of the camps had become so slow that volunteers went into town to buy tents for waiting families. By Wednesday, the United Nations had 350. A tent city had been erected on a spit of dirt between a wheat field and a bed of dried sunflowers. It was littered with used underwear, decongestant, meal replacement bars, enriched water, old phone cards, receipts in Greek and Cyrillic, and shoes caked in mud. Men brushed their teeth and spat onto the ground. Children giggled as they watched an empty orange tent, lifted by the wind, float in the air like a kite.
Inside the camp, a parliament member named Timea Szabo said, crowds were trying to rush the police and were confused about instructions because there were no Arabic interpreters.
Mark Wade, a volunteer with a humanitarian organization called Migszol Szeged, handed out rakes, and the migrants tried cleaning up.
“Things have gotten to a new low,” he said. “More and more people have heard about what is happening, and more people are scared they will close the border. And they think the border will help? Do they think they can just arrest them?"
Agnes Juhasz, who was providing medical support, said she had seen a host of children with dysentery as well as parents with ear and eye infections from their 10- and 12-day journeys.
She helped remove the shoes of a 55-year-old man, and his feet were gnarled and deformed. “Torture,” he told her, by the Islamic State.
Later, Kiro and his family walked within the tent city. The mixed odor of trash, bus exhaust and waste was so strong that women covered their noises with their hijabs. They set mats in the dirt. The children ran, and the men hugged.
“Syria is no more to me,” said Mohamed Kiro, 34, also a masseur, as he watched his son, Bashir, play with a stuffed snake. “Now it is time for a new life.”
They had seen their neighbors disappear and friends die. They couldn’t smoke in public, and the cocktail maker could make no cocktails. A 22-year-old talked about being forced to join the army, when all he wanted was to be a literature major. And then, he was in danger because his beard wasn’t long enough.
“Germany has all the services, and they welcome us, and I hope I can go back to my studies,” said Osama Suleimon. “But we can go anywhere. I understand why some countries would think we are bad Muslims, because they see terrorists on the TV. But they will like us when they see the depths of our souls.”
Volunteers offered them bread and canned chicken, while the children received chocolate. A man fell asleep in the afternoon sun. As he lay, his grip on a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes loosened.
“They say 27 hours here,” said Ari Kiro, the whistle now in his pocket. “And then a day in the camp. We can do it.”
The family set up some of the donated tents. Now the tent that once floated in the air was being hammered into the ground, and 3-year-old Bashir giggled as he rushed inside.