5th Anniversary of the Great Refugee/Migrant/Asylum- Seeker "Crisis" - Part 2 -The Train Stops Short
Photo: The train stopped short - 100 miles short - of Sopron and the Austrian border, but just right for Bicske and its holding camp for asylum seekers.
It was a hot day - every day of these events I should think the temperatures hit 32-33C - and the train, packed with refugees as well as a handful of media folk - including ITN's James Mates and cameraman Toby Nash - was a hothouse.
When it rolled into Bicske, a mere 25 miles from Budapest, several passengers, including children, were suffering from heat exhaustion.
Photo: Bicske station, soon after arrival. A male passenger is treated for heat exhaustion.
From memory, the mood among the refugees was initially fine, but it darkened as they realised the train was going no further, and they were being invited to go to the nearby holding camp.
Rightly or wrongly, they felt tricked and deceived. Many held up valid tickets to Germany in protest.
Photo: Tickets to Ride - on a train going nowhere - Bicske, September 3, 2015
There then followed some ugly scenes: as policemen and women offered packs of water bottles to reduce the risk of dehydration - probably all in good faith - a minority of angry refugee youths kicked and tossed the water packs onto the tracks, insisting they wanted to travel on, not drink water.
These events were duly filmed by police cameramen to appear on pro-government video reports with the underlying message saying: Would you want these people in your country? The answer was, of course, obvious - the footage was most compelling - but it cleverly avoided giving the background to the anger and frustration among the refugee throngs, who were now refusing en mass to evacuate the train and enter the holding camp. (And to think that the government complains about biased and incomplete reporting by foreign correspondents? Are you reading this, Zoli?)
Meanwhile, the local police commander had decided to declare the platform holding the train some sort of emergency zone, and media crews were hustled off to watch from the station building, unable to observe events on the south side of the train.
Begrudgingly, we obeyed.
The stand-off continued into the early evening, with only a few families with babies or young children breaking ranks and deciding that the holding camp option would be a better way to spend the night.
Photo: Facing a night on the train and a very
uncertain future. A refugee looks over the tracks
to the press corps, now banished to the main
station building. Bicske, September 3, 2015.
The rest defiantly held out, insisting they would not budge until the train took them to Austria. Brave words, but they were to prove more bluster than substance.
As we did our early evening reports, the relative calm on what appeared to be common land outside the station was shattered by something I'd never witnessed before. A refugee, who I assume had got off the train, went beserk, running wildly from police who had been quietly questioning him.
I use the word 'beserk' carefully. He was not in control of his mind. It was a very sad sight. But I followed the melee and watched carefully how the police - there were two or three chasing him - handled the situation.
I feared violence was almost inevitable, but much to their credit, the police restrained the man without any blows or overt aggression.
Photo: The man who ran amok as night fell receives medial attention. If I remember correctly, he was an Iraqi, and was screaming that he wanted protection for his children - but I don't have this in any notes and I could have mis-remembered. Bicske, September 3, 2015.
Indeed, throughout the time I worked on the refugee trail (about three weeks in total), I never witnessed anything but very restrained, non-aggressive policing. (This was mostly in Hungary, but also in Serbia and Croatia. On both sides of the Slovene-Austrian border, security forces were absolute sweeties. I mean, they actually smiled at times! Coming from places like Syrian and Iraq, the refugees must have wondered what had been put in their tea.)
There again, we were in Serbia, but not at the Röszke border crossing into Hungary, on the afternoon of September 17, when the security forces were surely not so restrained.
To be continued