After the initial joy of arriving in Europe, it becomes clear to most of the refugees in Budapest that they are trapped at the train station. Police are watching over an increasingly disgruntled crowd of thousands.
It is close to 11.00am when it becomes clear that there is a problem brewing. Special police units begin running toward the square in front of the train station. Decked out in bulletproof vests, tear gas canisters, and sunglasses, they look a little like Robocops.
On the other side: refugees in dirty t-shirts and torn jeans, holding old pizza boxes bearing slogans such as “We are people too”.
“We’re taking them all with us,” one of the police officers says quietly, while heading towards the tents with families from Syria. The people with documents are supposed to go to the police station to be fingerprinted and start the asylum application process, as outlined by EU regulations.
Doing so would mean that they have to remain in Hungary until the process has been completed. The authorities want to take all the other people to the refugee accommodation outside of Budapest to await deportation in the event that they have no claim to political asylum.
The refugees are not interested in either option, so they come up with a third. They form a human chain and begin moving toward the police shouting “We want to go”.
The police officers have a choice: escalation, or retreat. They choose the latter. A victory for the refugees gathered in front of the train station.
“It’s not going to work,” says Mohammed, a 23-year-old Syrian who wants to study in Germany. “I’m against violence, and there are lots of women and children here.”
It is mainly the young men in the crowd that go up to the police barricade to protest. For his part, Mohammed says he does not want to be taken to a registration centre. “We’re safe here,” he said. “We’re too many for the police.”
That is one of the main reasons why most of the refugees choose to remain at the train station, and do not try to make their own way further west. There are enough options: Taxis, buses, or going on foot. But as soon as they leave the crowd, they risk being stopped by the authorities.
Every now and then, small groups of people accompanied by several police officers walk along the edge of the station on their way to the police station, or to one of the camps.
Another big reason why most prefer to stay with the crowd is money. Taxi drivers are asking for €600 per passenger for the trip from Budapest to Munich. According to one of the drivers, it is “good money”.
But most of the refugees here do not have that kind of cash. They have exhausted their reserves for train tickets that they are now not allowed to use, and for food and water, since they do not receive anything from the Hungarian government.
One Syrian man is waiting on a Western Union transfer for more cash to buy supplies for his family.
“I didn’t think that I’d be here for this long,” he said. He is sleeping on a blanket in the so-called “transit zone”. However, there is no sign of any transit here; only stagnation. Hundreds are camping in the walkways in front of the train station. It smells of sweat. The children are crying. Right now, it is a trap with no way out.
The people here want one thing: to go to Germany. The joy they felt at arriving in the EU has evaporated. When asked what the worst part of his journey so far has been – the war zone, the sea, or the scorching heat in the Balkans – one of the men answers quickly: “This here.”