[Full Story] The Great, Spontaneous Motorway March - September 4, 2015
Updated: Sep 5
Fifth Anniversary of the Great Refugee/Migrant/Asylum- Seeker "Crisis" - Part 3
Photo: The Flagbearer - some of the marching asylum seekers head west on the M1 motorway towards the Austrian border at about 15.30 on the afternoon of Friday, September 4, 2015. Note how one marcher is covering his face, perhaps fearful that security forces back home will take it out on his family, perhaps fearful of recognition by European security forces, or perhaps just force of habit from a lifetime of fear - who can tell?
This photo was taken near the exit for the Tesco store, Budaörs, at about kilometer post 7. This means they will have walked about 10.5 miles (17 km) at this point from Keleti station. Although this photo only depicts young men, in fact there were many middle-aged and elderly men and women in the winding, strung-out crowd. Despite the heat, many of the women, fully dressed in traditional middle-eastern attire, seemed to take the task with equanimity.
Perhaps some time in the future, a researcher, fluent in Arabic, or more likely a team of researchers with Mid-East language skills, will try to ascertain who first had the idea to up sticks en masse from Keleti station, ignore the police, and simply begin walking to Vienna. I'm sure they will have a miserable time, with a minimum of several hundred people all convinced in their own minds that they were the bright spark on that Friday who first suggested the idea. But that will surely be nothing like the police commander's miserable time that day as, caught on the back foot as he or she surely was, had to decide on policy as this phalanx of humanity – men, women and children of all ages – spontaneously decamped en masse and started the trek towards Austria, 125 miles distant. But all this was to transpire around lunchtime. For the morning, we in the ITN TV team felt the most likely developing story was the continuing stand off between the police and refugees who had refused to leave the train at Bicske railway station the previous afternoon.
We arrived to find the once-Sopron bound train still well filled with defiant protesters, who had taken to scrawling their demands in what appeared to be shaving cream along the carriage sides for the benefit of the world's press.
Photo: Bicske station, mid-morning on September 4, 2015
Photo: Bicske railway station, mid-morning, September 4, 2015. A shaving-cream message for the world's press.
A quick visit to the nearby holding camp found some inmates at one point climbing over the gates to escape – which was quite bizarre as the camp, while guarded and gated, was free to enter and exit once asylum seekers had registered upon first entry. (It was also a dangerous exercise for women clad in traditional Mid-east dress, though none that I observed suffered injury as a result of this unnecessary action.)
Photo: Flee the camp! A man - presumably the husband or close relative - helps a woman climb in traditional garb clamber over the gate at Bicske refugee camp, 25 miles west of Budapest. This was a panic move and unneccessary - refugees were free to leave the camp once registered. But soon enough, news came through of the Great Motorway March, and we turned back towards Budapest to meet the multitudes as they approached the environs of Budaörs, about 10 miles from Keleti. Accompanied by a police convoy, the marchers seemed in high spirits and were maintaining a fast pace, despite the hot sun.
Photo: Homage to Saint Angela. Some of the leading marchers in high spirits near Budaörs, 10 miles south-west of Budapest. In the left mid-ground are Georgina Brewer, ITN producer, and Toby "get the picture, whatever it takes" Nash, ITN camerman.
Photo: That's 10 miles on crutches - only 115 more to the Austrian frontier.
Photo: Back at Bicske, where we filed our reports for the evening news, the last of the refugees had been persuaded to leave the train. Under a heavy police presence, the final forty or so give themselves up, many in an emotional state. They had been on the train for a gruelling 36 hours.
Later that evening, after filing a live report for the 10.00 O'clock News in the UK, we caught up with the marchers again around midnight on the motorway near Bicske. By now, the column was much thinned out. Little wonder, the toughest and most determined – naturally, mostly youths - had walked something like 22 miles. Someone, presumably voluntary aid workers, had provided blankets, and people were bedding down on the hard shoulder and grassy motorway banks.
I found the flag-bearer*, a 28-year old ethnic Kurd named Shaheen. A mechanic, he hailed from Raqqa, a city in north-east Syria then under the brutal control of “Daish” - otherwise known as ISIS.
“I have no country, [Syrian President] Bassar Al-Assad has destroyed my country." he said, speaking Arabic through an interpreter. "The European Union is now my country.”
* Editorial Note: I cannot say if this flag-bearer is the same person as I photographed in the afternoon.
The ITN reportage from this week was nominated for a national award in the UK, a significant accolade, although it didn't win in the end.
Following evens on Septembe 4, there was a week's hiatus in coverage before we began again on September 14, at the southern border with Serbia.
To be continued.