The nights were punctuated by the sound of police sirens racing to and from Keleti Station, the city’s main international train station. We couldn’t ignore the daily reported plight of thousands of migrant people trapped outside the station since the authority’s cancellation of all international departures, seemingly in response to demands by Germany to Hungary to register and process immigrants.
We went to what is now becoming a refugee camp on Thursday 3 September to see for ourselves the situation. The train station and the avenue leading up to it is packed with people arranged in small groups sitting and lying on blankets. Mainly men, but there are also many women with babies and small children.
We saw lots of water bottles, fruit and bread rolls and some take away cartons which the station litter pickers were scooting about with a wheelie bin to keep collecting. The station forecourt and underpass is packed with people. The din in the underpass must make sleeping impossible but we saw plenty of exhausted adults and children lying oblivious to the noise and the passing feet of commuters.
International media is grouped outside the main entrance in a semi-circle and recording continual reports. Inside the station police are grouped at the end of each empty platform but are otherwise not around. A giant information board advises that all international trains are cancelled due to ‘safety reasons’.
The atmosphere at the camp was very calm. Children played football or hand games with their parents. Mothers nursed their babies. Men grouped together in conversation and some wrote giant banners with messages in English: “Angela Merkel we want to come to Germany please”, “we want to live in peace”, “Europe help us”.
Returning in the early evening on our way back to Bertha the cooler air made for a livelier camp, complete with a party atmosphere in some corners as drums were played and people sang or chanted. Alcohol is of course not an issue so the high spirits were genuine and welcomed by locals who were threading their way through the mass of blankets and bodies to head home or to make their connections, Keleti being a major transfer point for local rail, metro, tram and bus services.
Un-liveried vans started to arrive at the station and volunteers approached groups of people to give out packs of snack food, fruit and water. There was no evidence of the Hungarian authorities attempting to carry out any registration process.
Back in Bertha and online we saw the news reports of a Hungarian charter train that took people unwittingly from the station in a bid to register them at a refugee camp, against their will. This is deeply disturbing and seemingly at odds with the experience of the city which has known mass deportation of its own population under duress. If news of the worrying manoeuvre by the authorities had reached the camp at Keleti it was not evident that evening in terms of causing heightened tension or anger. We wondered how long calm would be maintained.
Throughout the night sirens blared and in the morning an army helicopter flew in low circles overhead.
Our decision now is whether to continue on our planned route south to Belgrade. This is the main route north that is being taken by the refugees. There are reports of tension at the border with Serbia as Hungary has erected a razor wire fence and is planning to make it more permanent, creating a bottle neck of refugees within the Serbian side, some of whom are Kosovan.