While European ministers squabbled and prepared for a series of meetings to further discuss the crisis, the squalid city outside Keleti grew and festered, developing new suburbs by the hour.
BUDAPEST, Hungary — A ragged metropolis of thousands of weary and bedraggled migrants continued to rise Wednesday in the labyrinth of underground passageways outside Keleti train station.
The Hungarian authorities, saying they were merely obeying European migration regulations, continued to keep migrants out of the station, despite having allowed thousands onto westbound trains on Monday.
At the same time, the people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan — most of them hoping to reach Germany — continued to pour over the Hungarian border from Serbia. The construction of a razor-wire fence seems to have barely slowed them down.
And so, while European ministers squabbled and prepared for a series of meetings to further discuss the crisis, vowing to move toward some sort of common and humane response, the squalid city outside Keleti grew and festered, developing new suburbs by the hour.
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“We are sleeping in trash,” said Ramadan Mustafa, 23, a chef from the Syrian city of Qamishli. “We don’t know what to do. It’s a matter of human rights. If they don’t do something about the situation, we are going to start walking.”
In the stifling heat, people sprawled wherever they could: on the tile of the underground plaza connecting Keleti to the nearest subway station; along the twisting passageways beneath the broad boulevards surrounding the station and, up at ground level, on the sun-baked concrete promenade at the huge station’s main entrance. There, television trucks provided a few patches of shade and hundreds of impassive police officers guarded every door.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been seeking refuge in Europe, only to find themselves confronted with a patchwork of incoherent asylum policies across the 28-member European Union (EU). At the same time, anti-immigrant sentiment, stoked by far-right political parties, is fostering a backlash in some countries, including Britain, France and Hungary, where those parties have influenced the political agenda.
The latest focus of the crisis is the tumult surrounding Keleti station.
On Wednesday more than 2,000 migrants — most of them young men and women and families — clustered on tattered blankets on a filthy tile floor. A few had small tents. Children scampered through the maze of makeshift encampments or tried to play soccer on the few tiny patches of unoccupied space.
Puddles of water smeared the tiles where people had tried to wash themselves. With temperatures in the 80s, the air smelled of sweat and human waste, and the chatter bouncing off the walls made it difficult to find a quiet spot.
On the outdoor plaza at the station’s main entrance, hundreds gathered, and there were regular protests where men chanted (“Germany! Germany! Freedom!”) at the police officers blocking the door, or waved slogans scrawled on empty pizza boxes.
People outside the station said they did not know what to do. Even the possibility of hiring smugglers to drive them across the border had become fraught since the gruesome deaths of 71 migrants last week whose bodies were found in the back of an abandoned truck across the border in Austria.
“In Europe, they’re treating us like ISIS did, beating us up,” said Ahmad Saadoun, 27, from Fallujah, Iraq, referring to the Islamic State group. “Either take me to Germany or just send me back. I don’t care anymore.”
At this, Saadoun started crying. A man standing next to him put his arm around Saadoun’s neck and kissed his cheek.
Keleti was not Wednesday’s only flashpoint.
At least 12 migrants drowned trying to make the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece, from which many begin the arduous, overland journey through Macedonia and Serbia into Hungary. Several bodies washed ashore on Turkey’s rocky western beaches, including that of a young child, a photograph of which was widely shared online.
Overnight, train service beneath the English Channel connecting France and Britain was temporarily disrupted after reports that migrants were trying to walk the route or hide atop the hurtling trains.
Amid the broad and shifting crisis, one of the proudest glories of the EU — the ability to travel freely, without border checks, from Estonia to Portugal — has been splintering.
Knowing that migrants determined to get to Germany and other Western nations and unable to board at Keleti station would probably try other routes, police officers from Hungary and adjoining nations conducted spot checks on trains for travelers who might be migrants.
Similar checks were being made on vehicles trying to cross the border between Hungary and Austria, causing huge traffic jams on the motorway that once sped happy East Europeans unimpeded into the heart of the West.
After more than 3,000 migrants succeeded in reaching Munich by train on Tuesday, only 150 arrived overnight, partly a reflection of the way the Hungarian crackdown has squeezed the human flow.
German authorities expected more migrants to find ways to evade the restrictions — and even hinted that, with a possible agreement on handling the crisis in the works, some might be permitted to travel directly from Budapest in coming days.
Michael Mueller, the mayor of Berlin, said authorities believed up to 14,000 migrants were making their way through Europe, and the city was preparing hundreds of beds in tents, former army barracks and two hangars of the city’s shuttered Tempelhof Airport.
“Today and in the coming days we will have to react to the arrival of markedly more migrants in our city than we had expected,” Mueller said at a news conference.
“They keep coming”
In Budapest, throughout the afternoon squads of police officers wearing surgical masks and gloves roamed the streets near Keleti station, going into Internet cafes and minimarkets and asking people who looked like migrants for documentation.
If the migrants could not produce evidence that they had entered the country legally or had been fingerprinted at the border — the first step in the official registration process — they were taken behind the station and forced to be fingerprinted, according to several migrants and one police officer.
Tamas Lederer, one of the founders of a volunteer group called Migration Aid that was formed two months ago in Budapest, said the government’s decision to close the station to migrants had done nothing to slow the human tide. “They keep coming, in the same numbers, and now they pile up here,” Lederer said.
Many of the migrants had valid tickets to board trains to the West, bought in a mad rush on Monday evening and Tuesday morning after Hungarian authorities allowed some migrants to leave. But because they could not get inside the station, they could not board their trains. And because the tickets were nonrefundable, they watched as more of their precious resources evaporated into the muggy air.
Passengers with the proper passports and documentation were allowed in to catch their trains, and disembarking passengers were fed through a side entrance to keep them away from the migrant throng.
Lederer’s group had set up offices in an empty storefront at the north side of the subterranean hall, and dozens of refugees clustered at its doors trying to get news, supplies and reassurance. A door a few yards away led to the group’s makeshift clinic, where six volunteer doctors and nurses tended to wounds and other ailments.
“At the beginning, a month ago or so, it was mostly foot problems from the long journey they had made,” Lederer said. “But now, there are so many, we get people with diabetes, various illnesses and, with the building of this wall along the southern border, a lot of slicing wounds from people cut on the razor wire.”