Fifth Anniversary of the Great Refugee/Migrant/Asylum- Seeker "Crisis" - Part 1
Updated: Sep 3
Five years ago this week, in September 2015, the Great Refugee (if you sympathise with them)/Migrant (if you don't)/Asylum Seeker (the most neutral) 'crisis' arguably came to a head in Hungary.
I was working with the UK's ITN television team under its European Editor, James Mates, at the time.
Unfortunately, in the early days of that week, I focused solely on my direct job, arranging interviews and finding refugees who could speak English, and I didn't carry a camera with me until Thursday, September 3.
Photo: Keleti station, 3 September, 2015
All aboard to the land of the Mozart Kugeln?
The centre of attention that week had largely been Budapest's Keleti railway station, where the Hungarian government had loosely corralled perhaps 2,000 -2,500 refugees (I'll use that word for now, without prejudice).
There was much confusion at the station. Some claimed they had been told to buy tickets and had done so, usually to Munich, only to find they were banned from boarding trains. Not only that, but many, not used to flexible, demand-side pricing, felt doubly cheated as they had been charged more than what they thought was the official rate.
Little wonder there were some angry people among the throngs - the world's cameras (including our own) duly filmed the 200 or so incensed young men who, every couple of hours, began chanting and looking ugly for ten minutes - before melting back into the masses who were otherwise calmly trying to eat/drink/shower/feed baby or otherwise wile away the time.
That all changed on the Thursday morning, when around 09.00 (as I remember) the police barring access to the platforms melted away, and rumour quickly spread that a train in the station was going to Austria.
Well, you don't need a PhD in Social Psychology to predict what happened next. We got on the scene just as the mayhem began, with hundreds of men, women, children and babies storming the train, fighting to get a place for what they believed would be a ride to the promised land, or at least out of the hell-hole of Budapest VIII and a chunk closer.
In fact, the train wasn't scheduled to go to Austria, but Sopron, although, compared to where most had come from, that would do fine, being but an hour's walk to the land of Mozart Kugeln.
Photo: Oh the Irony: the locomotive which had brought the train into Keleti was especially painted to celebrate the famous picnic on the Austrian border when the gates of the Iron Curtain had been opened in 1989. The German text reads "Pan-European Picnic - Europe without Borders for 25 Years".
Note too the image of the barbed wire under the text. Would-be passengers look less than impressed.
The mayhem lasted for perhaps an hour or more before things calmed down, the tracks cleared, doors closed and the train headed out. But where to? According to our intelligence reports, only 40 km west, to the small town of Bicske. This was well short of the Austrian border - but there happened to be a refugee camp there. It seemed to me that if someone was seeking to set up a conflict, they could not have planned it better.
Note: Never fear, I will continue with the saga of Gábor Rimner (and Train Ride to the Kunság) - just this week is THE time to remember events from 2015.
To Be Continued