BERLIN/NICKELSDORF, Austria (Reuters) - Austria’s chancellor criticized Hungary for its handling of the refugee crisis on Saturday, likening the country’s policies to Nazi deportations during the Holocaust as refugees complained of their treatment in the eastern European country.
Thousands of refugees are crossing the border to Hungary, an eastern outpost of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, every day, and many are traveling on to the continent’s more prosperous west and north in what is Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.
Refugees continued to stream into Germany, favored for its generous welfare system and relatively liberal asylum laws. At Munich’s main train station around 9,200 arrived by early evening and authorities said they would struggle to cope.
In an interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann likened Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s treatment of refugees to the Nazis’ deportation of Jews and others to concentration camps.
“Sticking refugees in trains and sending them somewhere completely different to where they think they’re going reminds us of the darkest chapter of our continent’s history,” he said.
On Sept. 3, migrants boarded a train in Budapest in the belief that they were heading to the border with Austria but the train was stopped 35 km (22 miles) west of the capital in the town of Bicske, where Hungary has a camp for asylum seekers.
Hungary dismissed Faymann’s comments as “utterly unworthy of a 21st century European leader” and summoned Austria’s ambassador.
Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said the Austrian chancellor had been pursuing a “campaign of lies” against Hungary for weeks that made it harder to find a common European solution to the crisis.
“THEY PUT US IN JAILS”
Many refugees and migrants now arriving in Hungary want to avoid being registered there for fear of being returned to Hungary later as they travel on to richer countries in western and northern Europe.
Saeed, a 25-year-old Syrian, was one of many refugees complaining about his treatment in Hungary. Speaking to Reuters in the Austrian border town of Nickelsdorf, he said he had spent the last six days in Hungary, where he was taken to five camps and had to sleep standing up in an overcrowded room.
“They put us in jails. We were there for a week, so little food, one of these little breads in the morning and one at night ... Everyone has a cold because there is no heating or anything there,” he said.
“I escaped from Syria because I wasn’t treated like a person, like a human being there and I came to Hungary and I was treated like an animal,” he added. Hungarian authorities were not immediately able to comment on the refugees complaints.
On Friday, video emerged of crowds clamoring for food in a border camp as police in surgical masks tossed them packs of sandwiches. Police in Hungary said they had launched an investigation into the scenes.
In an interview due to be published in the Sunday edition of Austrian newspaper Oesterreich, Faymann said: “It is unacceptable that refugees arrive from Hungary afraid, panicked, hungry and sometimes traumatized.”
Orban, a conservative populist always keen to undercut his main political rival, the far-right Jobbik party, has taken a tough stance during the crisis and told German newspaper Bild’s Saturday edition that refugees should be sent back once Hungary closes its borders on Sept 15.
Asked where, he said: “Where they came from. These migrants are not coming to us from war zones but rather from camps in countries neighboring Syria like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. They were safe there.”
He said he would take a refugee family into his own home if he was sure this would not encourage others to come to Europe, adding that the continent would “perish” if it continued to take in millions of refugees.
In Munich, refugees are collected from train platforms by police and taken to the main hall, where volunteers - some of them wearing T-Shirts featuring the slogan “Refugees welcome” - give them bottles of water, fruit, nappies and clothes.
After a quick medical check-up, they generally board buses and are on their way to their emergency accommodation in Munich or elsewhere in Bavaria within an hour of arriving.
Christoph Hillenbrand, senior administrator of the Upper Bavaria district around Munich, said he had organized 5,000 emergency accommodation places for the night but he was concerned these would not suffice.
Germany is expecting to take in around 800,000 refugees this year and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday that the country expected to receive 40,000 migrants this weekend.
But domestic tensions are rising, with politicians from across the spectrum accusing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government of losing control of the refugee situation.
Several interior ministers from Germany’s states complained in confidential conference calls that Merkel’s decision last weekend to open Germany’s borders had taken them by surprise, newspaper Welt am Sonntag said on Sunday.
Roger Lewentz, interior minister of Rhineland-Palatinate and head of the group of interior ministers, told the newspaper the states were “in real trouble” as they had reached their limit with accommodating refugees.
Merkel said economic migrants would not be able to stay and urged other countries to show more solidarity in the refugee crisis ahead of a meeting of EU interior ministers on Monday.
“This is not just Germany’s responsibility - it’s the responsibility of all EU member states,” she said, adding that Greece needed to protect its border with non-EU member Turkey.
Some 5,100 migrants had entered Austria from Hungary on Saturday by the early evening and more were expected before the end of the day, a police spokesman said.
Human traffickers have exploited the turmoil. German newspaper Bild am Sonntag said German authorities had detained 2,336 traffickers this year by Sept. 8 - an increase of around 40 percent compared with the same period last year. The interior ministry was not immediately available for comment.
In Greece, police said they arrested two Syrians and two Lebanese on suspicion of providing forged documents to migrants passing through Athens. The had charged the migrants between 500 and 6,000 euros, police said.
Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Jens Hack in Munich, Thomas Escritt in Budapest, Michele Kambas in Athens and Reuters TV in Hamburg; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Dominic Evans