Thousands of Migrants Given Warm Welcome in Austria After It Opens Its Borders: 'It's a Relief to Finally See a Sliver of Humanity'
"It is a relief to finally see a sliver of humanity," one human rights official said
As Europe continues with what some have called the “worst refugee crisis since World War II,” thousands of migrants seeking asylum were greeted with open arms Saturday as they entered Austria from Hungary, according to the Associated Press.
The migrants – many from the African nations of Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan; Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria in the Middle East; and Albania and Serbia in Europe, according to USA Today – were greeted with hot tea and beds, according to the AP.
More than 5,000 refugees crossed from Hungary into Austria by Saturday afternoon, an Austrian police spokesman told the AP.
By train, some of them were then taken to Vienna, the Austrian capital, or Munich, Germany.
Their transit represents a temporary end to a complex political stalemate in Hungary that had, until this weekend, left thousands of refugees in limbo.
“After endless examples of shameful treatment by governments of refugees and migrants in Europe, it is a relief to finally see a sliver of humanity,” Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe, told the AP. “But this is far from over, both in Hungary and in Europe as a whole.
“The pragmatic and humane approach finally applied here should become the rule, not the exception.”
Under European Union law, refugees are approved for asylum by the country that is their initial entry point, and Hungary had worked for several days to send migrants to its refugee centers for processing.
“But thousands refused and demanded free passage chiefly to Germany,” according to the AP.
On Friday, Austria and Germany announced they would accept the migrants – many of whom come from countries torn by sociopolitical and economic instability or, in the case of the Middle East, a years-long Syrian civil war and ongoing battles with ISIS.
The migrant crisis this year has claimed the lives of more than 3,700 people, according to USA Today, as people cross the Balkan Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Earlier this week the death of a 3-year-old Syrian refugee who was trying to flee to Europe with his family made international headlines (warning: graphic content).
“The right to political asylum has no limits on the number of asylum seekers,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly said Saturday, according to the AP.
“As a strong, economically healthy country we have the strength to do what is necessary,” she said.
The EU will convene on Sept. 14, with plans to address the crisis, and each country’s role in resolving it, according to the AP.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban worried at the course of pursuing a policy truly without limits, according to the AP.
“What will it solve if we divide 50,000 or 100,000 migrants among [the EU],” he said, “when uncountable millions will be on the way?”
For many on Saturday however, their journeys were ending.
Firas Al Tahan, 38, a laundry worker from Damascus arrived in Vienna with his wife and five young children. He told the AP, “I am very happy.”