HEGYESHALOM (Hungary / Vienna) • Austria and Germany threw open their borders to thousands of exhausted migrants yesterday, many bussed to the Hungarian border by a government overwhelmed by the sheer numbers reaching Europe's frontiers.
Left to walk the last yards into Austria, rain-soaked migrants, many of them refugees from Syria's civil war, were whisked by train and shuttle bus to Vienna, where many said they were resolved to continue on to Germany.
German police later said the first 450 of up to 10,000 migrants expected yesterday arrived in Munich on a special train from Austria.
Austrian police said more than 6,000 migrants had entered the country, with more expected, highlighting the continent's worst refugee crisis since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.
"It was just such a horrible situation in Hungary," said Omar, arriving in Vienna with his family and hundreds of other migrants, who poured out onto a fenced-off platform and were handed food, drinks and other supplies.
It's not 150,000 (migrants coming) that some (in the EU) want to divide according to quotas... It's not 500,000, a figure that I heard in Brussels. It's millions, then tens of millions, because the supply of immigrants is endless.
HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER VIKTOR ORBAN, defending the nation's move to close its borders against the influx of migrants
After days of confrontation and chaos, Hungary's government deployed more than 100 buses overnight to take thousands of migrants to the Austrian border. Austria said it had agreed with Germany to allow the migrants access, waiving asylum rules that require them to register in the first European Union state they reach.
Wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags against the rain, long lines of weary migrants, many carrying small, sleeping children, climbed off buses on the Hungarian side of the border and walked into Austria, receiving fruit and water from aid workers.
Waiting Austrians held signs that read, "Refugees welcome".
"We're happy. We'll go to Germany," said a Syrian man who gave his name as Mohammed. Another, who declined to be named, said: "Hungary should be fired from the European Union. Such bad treatment."
Hungary insisted the bus rides were a one-off, even as hundreds more migrants assembled in Budapest, part of a relentless surge northwards through the Balkan peninsula from Turkey and Greece.
About 350,000 refugees and migrants have reached the border of the EU this year, leaving the 28-nation grouping groping for solutions amid dysfunctional squabbling over burden-sharing.
Pressure to take effective action rose sharply last week after pictures flashed around the world of the body of a three-year-old Syrian Kurdish boy washed up on a Turkish resort beach.
Germany expects a record influx of up to 800,000 refugees and migrants this year, but is also expected to reject up to 75,000 asylum requests by migrants, mainly from south-eastern Europe.
Hungary, the main entry point into Europe's borderless Schengen zone for migrants, has taken a hard line, vowing to seal its southern frontier with a new, high fence by Sept 15. Hungarian officials have painted the crisis as a defence of Europe's prosperity, identity and "Christian values" against an influx of mainly Muslim migrants.
"It's not 150,000 (migrants coming) that some (in the EU) want to divide according to quotas," Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said yesterday. "It's not 500,000, a figure that I heard in Brussels. It's millions, then tens of millions, because the supply of immigrants is endless," he said.
The flow of people risking rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean shows no sign of abating, despite more trips by sea ending in disaster. More than 2,000 have died at sea so far this year, including between 30 and 40 last Friday who were reported drowned off Libya's coast.